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Court Says Witness Statement Was Proper In Murder Trial

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File photo of a gavel (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

File photo of a gavel (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

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By DAVE COLLINS, Associated Press

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ The state Supreme Court ruled Monday that criminal defendants accused of playing a role in the killing of a witness can’t then claim the witness’ statements are inadmissible at trial.

The court’s 7-0 decision came in the case of former Bloomfield resident Anthony Thompson, who is serving a 70-year prison sentence for killing a man and wounding two other people in a 2005 bar fight in Hartford. He also awaits trial on charges he orchestrated the murder of a witness who had told police that Thompson was the bar shooter.

Thompson claimed in appealing his murder and assault convictions that the trial judge wrongly allowed into evidence both the statement of the slain witness and evidence that he planned the killing of the witness. He said allowing the statement violated his constitutional right to confront witnesses and broke rules against hearsay evidence.

The Supreme Court rejected Thompson’s arguments and upheld his convictions. Justices agreed with prosecutors and the judge in Thompson’s trial that there was enough evidence that Thompson was complicit in the witness’s death, and they cited a 1982 ruling by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in a case involving the killing of a witness in a drug crime prosecution.

“If a witness’ silence is procured by the defendant himself … the defendant cannot then assert his confrontation clause rights in order to prevent prior grand jury testimony of that witness from being admitted against him,” the 2nd Circuit said. “Any other result would mock the very system of justice the confrontation clause was designed to protect.”

Justices also quoted from a ruling by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

“The defendant who has removed an adverse witness is in a weak position to complain about losing the chance to cross-examine him,” the appeals court said.

Prosecutors said Thompson fatally shot father-of-12 O’Neil Robinson, 34, of Bloomfield, and wounded two others inside the Cleveland Cafe in Hartford’s North End in the early morning hours of Valentine’s Day 2005.

Two years later and before Thompson’s trial, a witness to the shooting, 21-year-old nursing student Asher Glace, was shot to death in the driveway of her Hartford home. Glace had given a statement to police identifying Thompson as the shooter.

Thompson’s lawyer, Lisa Steele, said she is disappointed with the Supreme Court’s ruling and is considering an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. She said the trial judge, in determining that Thompson played a role in the killing of Glace, relied on a lower “preponderance of evidence” standard instead of the higher “clear and convincing” evidence standard. The evidence included statements by a jailhouse informant.

“He’s never been tried for harming this witness,” said Steele, adding her client insists he’s innocent in both killings.

In its ruling, the state Supreme Court adopted the “preponderance of evidence” standard in such cases, saying the lower standard would act as a deterrent to defendants harming witnesses.

Thompson and his brother, Earl Thompson, are awaiting trial on charges of accessory to murder and conspiracy to commit murder in connection with Glace’s killing.

Glace’s family is suing Hartford police and state prosecutors in federal court on claims that authorities knew Glace was in danger but failed to protect her.

     (Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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