Prosecutorial Misconduct Results in New Trial in Connecticut Murder Case
by Christopher Zoukis
In a rare public rebuke of a prosecutor found to have engaged in a “deliberate pattern of misconduct,” the Connecticut Appellate Court vacated a defendant’s murder conviction based on the prosecutor’s improper remarks during closing arguments.
Senior Assistant State’s Attorney Terence D. Mariani, Jr. was chided in an opinion by Judge Michael R. Sheldon, writing for a three-judge panel in the direct appeal of Victor Santiago, who was found guilty of killing a Waterbury bar owner during a 1998 robbery. Santiago was not arrested in the case until 2010, when his estranged wife implicated him and his two brothers in the murder.
In ordering a new trial for Santiago, who had received a life sentence, the Appellate Court held that Mariani deliberately “flouted” a trial court’s ruling that limited references to Santiago’s alleged involvement in the Latin Kings gang to establish a basis for Santiago’s wife’s fear of him. The court noted that Mariani repeatedly referred to Santiago’s connection with the Latin Kings during his closing arguments.
Santiago’s lawyer had complained that Mariani called her client a “gang banger” and made other references to the Latin Kings to attack Santiago’s character and intimate to the jury that he was a dangerous person. Mariani even made “inexplicable” degrading comments about Santiago’s wife and children before the jury, prompting the court to write that his remarks were “not only improper in a legal sense, but they were also rude and irrelevant to any of the issues in the case.”
More pointedly, the Appellate Court held in its May 28, 2013 decision that Mariani “had engaged in a deliberate pattern of improper conduct in this case and others.” The court took the unusual step of cataloging incidents in at least a half-dozen other published cases in which the prosecutor had made improper comments, dating back more than a decade. For example, in a 2001 case Mariani had argued to the jury, “If I loaded that gun and shut out the lights in this courtroom and put it in [the defendant’s] hand, I think everyone would [see] how dangerous he is.”
In vacating Santiago’s murder conviction, the Appellate Court said it recognized that represented an extraordinary remedy, but that Mariani “remains undeterred by pronouncements of this court and our Supreme Court that his conduct was improper,” and “nothing short of reversal will have the effect of deterring him” from further misconduct. See: State v. Santiago, 143 Conn. App. 26, 66 A.3d 520 (Conn. 2013).
Mariani remains employed with the State’s Attorney’s office in Waterbury, Connecticut.
Sources: Associated Press, http://connecticut.cbslocal.com, www.ctlawtribune.com
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Related legal case
State v. Santiago
|Cite||143 Conn. App. 26, 66 A.3d 520 (Conn. 2013)|
|Level||State Court of Appeals|