The Law Tribune previews important or interesting cases most weeks when the state Appellate Court or state Supreme Court are in session.
Case: State v. Lissette I. Chiclana
Court: Connectivcut Appellate Court
Date: Monday, Nov. 18
Time: 10 a.m.
Attorneys: James M. Ralls; Lisa Herskowitz; Janice Nicole Wolf
Summary: A teenager who was convicted of manslaughter after accidentally shooting her friend while playing a game with a gun is trying to get a new trial. She claims the trial judge wrongly admitted evidence proving that the same gun had previously been accidentally fired.
Background: Lissette “Golda” Chiclana, 19, lived in a New Haven apartment with her mother and three other people. On Oct. 24, 2010, her friend Jamese Hudson, 16, was also staying with her.
Although she did not have a pistol permit, Chiclana had purchased a .380-caliber handgun six months earlier for protection after her boyfriend had been shot and killed in front of her home.
Chiclana and Hudson were good friends and the two nicknamed the gun “Little G.” The two young ladies often played a game where they would take turns pointing the loaded handgun at each other and squeezing the trigger while the safety was on.
At 10 p.m. on Oct. 23, 2010, according to prosecutors, Chiclana was in the kitchen heating up food when the gun fell out of her pocket. It discharged upon hitting the floo, firing a bullet into an adjacent apartment. Hudson was present at the time.
Chiclana later told police that after that accidental discharge,they made sure the gun’s safety was on.
On Oct. 24, at around 1:30 p.m., Chiclana and Hudson were hanging out in a bedroom in the apartment. They were again playing with the gun, taking turns pointing it at each other and pulling the trigger. “I picked it up and did it again, but it went off,” Chiclana told a detective.
Hudson suffered a fatal gunshot wound to the face. The gun was fired from 18 inches away.
Instead of calling 911, or checking to see if her friend was still breathing, Chiclana ran out of the apartment because she did not want the police to find her. On her way out of the apartment, she told two other people that she had accidentally shot Hudson and had to leave.
She next went to her boyfriend’s home, where she changed her clothes and washed the gun and hid it. The boyfriend’s mother, however, said that she was going to call the police. Chiclana fled again.
Police arrested Chiclana around 5:20 p.m. after they found a group of women assaulting her. “You need to get her. She shot my sister,” one person in the group told police.
Chiclana was charged with first-degree manslaughter, carrying a pistol without a permit and illegal discharge.
According to court documents, Chiclana showed no emotion or remorse and smiled, laughed and joked during the entire interview with detectives. When police asked her if she understood the severity of the victim’s injuries, Chiclana reportedly responded: “She’s dead, right?”
At trial, Chiclana was acquitted of manslaughter in the first degree with a firearm, but convicted of the lesser-included offense of second-degree reckless manslaughter with a firearm. The jury also convicted her of carrying a pistol without a permit.
Superior Court Judge Brian T. Fischer sentenced Chiclana last year to a total of 11 years in prison followed by three years’ probation. Ten years of the prison sentence are for the manslaughter conviction; that was the maximum the judge could impose for second-degree reckless manslaughter with a firearm. The additional time was for the carrying a pistol without a permit.
Chiclana has appealed the conviction on grounds that the trial court should not have admitted evidence of the unintentional discharge of the gun the day before Hudson’s death. Chiclana’s appellate attorney, Assistant Public Defender Janice N. Wolf, argues that the accidental discharge was prejudicial to her client’s case. Wolf is seeking a new trial.
Wolf said the prosecutor referred to the incident three times in his closing argument and submitted 12 photos to the jury of the bullet holes in the neighboring apartment. “The evidence of the unintentional discharge of the gun the night before Ms. Hudson died improperly aroused the emotions of the jury,” Wolf wrote in her appellate brief. “They were given information that was separate and distinct from the death of Ms. Hudson that reflected poorly on Ms. Chiclana’s character.”
Wolf also wrote: “The state’s attorney is clearly insinuating that Ms. Chiclana is of bad character. This evidence was improperly and prejudicially used to determine that she was guilty of the crime for which she was charged.”
Senior Assistant State’s Attorney Lisa Herskowitz wrote that it was impossible to ignore the link between the two events.
“The proximity of the October 23rd discharge to the shooting of the victim and the fact that the same gun was involved made it highly probative on the issues of the defendant’s knowledge and state of mind at the time of the victim’s death,” wrote Herskowitz. “Allowing a loaded gun to fall out of a pocket and accidentally discharge is far less serious than the conduct underlying the charged offense – pointing a loaded gun at another’s face and pulling the trigger, causing death – militates in favor of a finding that it was not unduly prejudicial.”