Thursday, May 22, 2008

Rapists want verdicts reversed

By William Kaempffer
Register Staff
— Attorneys for two men convicted in one of the region’s most notorious crimes of this decade argued separately before the state Supreme Court that their guilty verdicts, or a portion of them, should be overturned.
Neither Clifton Foreman nor Alazaron Sargeant, each serving 85 years in prison, were in the courtroom as their attorneys argued their cases, but the woman they kidnapped, raped and attempted to kill in Woodbridge in 2003 was, accompanied by her mother and New Haven State’s Attorney Michael Dearington.
Later, on the steps outside the state’s highest court, the victim said she had “great confidence that justice will be served and the convictions will be upheld.”
The hearings, held back-to-back, together lasted less than an hour; no decision was handed down Wednesday.
The two men, both 22, were convicted in 2005 of kidnapping the former University of New Haven student at gunpoint in West Haven, putting her in the trunk of her car and driving to a secluded spot in Woodbridge where they sexually assaulted her. Sargeant then tried to snap her neck and Foreman repeatedly hit her on the head with a rock, according to testimony at the trial. She was left for dead.
DNA at the scene conclusively linked Foreman to the crime.
In court Wednesday, Foreman’s attorney, Deborah G. Stevenson, detailed for justices what she described as a series of missteps by the trial court judge and assailed tactics employed New Haven police detectives and the police investigation at its foundation.
Most pointedly, she said, police brought Foreman to police headquarters under false pretenses, got him to waive his Miranda rights against self-incrimination without telling him what they were investigating, and later denied him access to a lawyer who had come to police headquarters to represent him. The lawyer and the family friend who accompanied her, former Alderwoman Mae Ola Riddick, were left waiting for more than 90 minutes first at the judicial lockup and then at the police front desk, even as Foreman was giving a statement to police and consenting to a DNA swab, before being told they couldn’t see him, Stevenson said.
That makes DNA that linked him to the rape and his statement to police “fruit from the poisonous tree” and inadmissible, she told the justices.
Senior Assistant State’s Attorney John A. East, who represented the state, and one of the justices observed the timeline for the lawyer’s arrival at police headquarters was at best murky. East said there was testimony suggesting Foreman was already under arrest when the lawyer inquired about him at the lock-up.
Stevenson didn’t appear to make much headway with her Miranda argument. When the lawyer contended Foreman couldn’t have made a “voluntary, intelligent waiver” of his rights if he didn’t know what information police were seeking, Justice Flemming L. Norcott Jr. interjected he had “never heard any case (law) that said that.”
Justice Barry R. Schaller observed that the Miranda waiver is broad and only means the defendant is willing to speak to police and not tied to a specific line of questioning.
Police had no idea Foreman was involved in the rape when they brought him to police headquarters in July 2004. He was among a group of suspects being questioned in a high-profile series of shootings in New Haven and it was during those interrogations that one of the other suspects, a 14-year-old, admitted his presence during the abduction and rape and implicated Foreman and Sargeant as the attackers.
He later testified against them at trial and was sentenced to four years in prison in the case.
Sargeant’s argument before the Supreme Court was more limited — his hearing lasted less than 10 minutes — to whether the evidence presented at trial supported his conviction on three out of the four first-degree sexual assault charges against him.
While there was a strong inference that Sargeant was a principal or accessory to the crime, “it wasn’t strong enough an inference in these three incidents to rise to beyond a reasonable doubt,” his attorney, Glenn Falk, said.
The state argued that the evidence was more than enough to establish the defendant’s guilt, either as a principal or accessory, to all four sexual assault charges. Sargeant did not contest his convictions for kidnapping, first-degree assault and other charges.

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