Newtown shooting tops list of state Supreme Court cases in 2019

HARTFORD — The Connecticut Supreme Court is poised to have a busy 2019 dealing with cases involving the Sandy Hook school shooting, the race of jurors and homes with crumbling foundations.

Justices have yet to reach a decision in the school shooting case after hearing arguments in November 2017 on whether a wrongful death lawsuit against gun-maker Remington should be reinstated. A lower court judge dismissed the lawsuit. Remington made the Bushmaster AR-15-style rifle used by 20-year-old Adam Lanza to kill 20 first-graders and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown on Dec. 14, 2012.

The plaintiffs include a survivor and relatives of nine people killed in the massacre. They argue that such rifles were designed as military killing machines and are too dangerous for the public, but Remington glorified them in marketing them to young people.

A lower court judge dismissed the lawsuit, agreeing with Remington’s argument that the federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act exempts gun-makers from liability when their products are used in crimes. The plaintiffs say their case falls under exemptions to that law.

Other cases pending before the state’s highest court:

Racial makeup of juries

Three cases set to be argued in early 2019 question whether enough African-Americans are selected for jury duty in Connecticut and decisions by prosecutors to exclude black people during the jury selection process.

Darnell Moore, who is black, was convicted of murder in 2012 in the shooting death of a man in Norwich and is serving a 53-year prison sentence. He argues the jury pool for his trial had few African-American men and was not a fair representation of the community’s racial demographics, in violation of his constitutional rights.

The state Appellate Court rejected Moore’s appeal, saying he failed to present evidence that the jury pool wasn’t fair. The judges found that census data relied on by Moore in his appeal to show the percentage of African-Americans in the population was not proper evidence to prove there weren’t enough blacks summoned to jury duty.

The state Supreme Court will decide whether the Appellate Court’s ruling was correct.

“As a general proposition, racial discrimination in the criminal justice system is a problem,” said Moore’s lawyer, Kenneth Rosenthal.

The two other cases involve African-Americans — one in each case — who were excluded from serving on juries for trials involving black defendants who were later convicted. At issue are “peremptory” challenges used by prosecutors during jury selection that excluded the black potential jurors from serving on the juries.

The defendants allege the prosecutors’ use of those challenges violated their constitutional rights as well as a 1986 U.S. Supreme Court ruling. Prosecutors deny those allegations.

Crumbling foundations

The state justices recently heard arguments on whether homeowners’ insurance policies should cover repairs to thousands of homes with crumbling foundations caused by defective concrete.

An estimated 35,000 homes in Connecticut and Massachusetts are affected by disintegrating concrete containing pyrrhotite, an iron sulfide that reacts naturally with oxygen and water. Replacing a foundation can cost $100,000 to $200,000.

In one of many lawsuits against insurers for failing to cover the damage, a federal judge earlier this year asked the state high court to better define the word “collapse.”

Insurers argue that policies only cover repairing foundations if homes collapse. Homeowners argue that under a 1987 state Supreme Court ruling, “collapse” also can mean impairment in structural integrity.

Home invasion killer

More than a decade after a Cheshire woman and her two daughters were killed in a home invasion, the appeal of one of the killers remains pending before the state Supreme Court.

Lawyers for Joshua Komisarjevsky say he should get a new trial because Cheshire police did not give defense lawyers the recordings of police phone calls that could have been used to challenge the credibility of officers who testified at the trial.

Prosecutors say the recordings would not have affected the verdict.

Komisarjevsky and Steven Hayes are serving life prison sentences for the killings of Jennifer Hawke-Petit, 48, and her daughters, 11-year-old Michaela and 17-year-old Hayley, in 2007.


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