Sanchez v. Commissioner of Correction
As reiterated in the 2009 Connecticut Appellate Court case of Joseph v. Commissioner of Correction, "[t]he habeas judge, as the trier of facts, is the sole arbiter of the credibility of witnesses and the weight to be given to their testimony." Following a jury trial, Jorge Sanchez was convicted of murder, conspiracy to commit murder and larceny, in connection with the shooting death of Angel Soto. Testimony indicated that Sanchez, expelled from membership in the Latin Kings gang, fatally shot Soto in concert with another individual, to regain gang membership. The conviction was affirmed on appeal. Sanchez filed an amended petition for a writ of habeas corpus claiming that his trial counsel, Jonathan Demirjian, rendered ineffective assistance by failing to call Sanchez's brother, Lester Simonetty, and cousin, Antonio Rigual, as witnesses on his behalf. Simonetty and Rigual testified at the habeas trial contradicting key testimony given at Sanchez's criminal trial. The habeas court denied the petition concluding that the petitioner failed to meet his burden of proving deficient performance and prejudice. The court reasoned that a jury would be unlikely to find the testimony of either Rigual or Simonetty credible. Sanchez appealed claiming that the habeas court abused its discretion by denying his petition for certification to appeal and erred in concluding that he failed to establish that he was denied effective assistance of counsel. The majority of the Appellate Court panel disagreed and dismissed the appeal. The habeas court concluded that a jury would be unlikely to find Rigual and Simonetty credible as both were convicted felons and "would have a motive to be deceptive." Absent evidence demonstrating that this finding was clearly erroneous, the majority declined to disturb the court's conclusion. The petitioner's reliance on the 2009 Connecticut Supreme Court case of Bryant v. Commissioner of Correction was found misplaced. Unlike the "disinterested" and "law-abiding" witnesses in that case, the undisputed testimony here established that Rigual and Simonetty were both related to the petitioner and have prior criminal convictions. Judge Sheldon dissented concluding that the two witnesses offered critical evidence to contradict the state's key witness, an admitted gang member who faced criminal charges of his own and testified while in custody as an informant for the Federal Bureau of Investigation.