Thomas v. Commissioner of Correction
As explained in the 2008 Connecticut Supreme Court case of Johnson v. Commissioner of Correction, "the failure of defense counsel to call a potential defense witness does not constitute ineffective assistance unless there is some showing [that the] testimony would have been helpful in establishing the asserted defense." Following a jury trial, James Thomas was convicted of murder for the stabbing death of Henry Goforth. His conviction was affirmed on appeal. In an amended petition for a writ of habeas corpus, Thomas alleged that his trial counsel, J. Jeffrey Beck, was ineffective in failing to call Luis Sostre to testify at his criminal trial. Thomas alleged that if Sostre, who allegedly saw three other persons commit the murder, had testified, he probably would not have been convicted of the offense. The habeas court denied the petition finding no deficient performance or prejudice. Sostre had recanted his initial statement to police that he saw others commit the murder. The habeas court found Beck's determination that Sostre had no credibility and there was no advantage to putting him on the witness stand, to be a strategic decision within the acceptable range of performance. The petitioner, granted certification, appealed. The Appellate Court affirmed the judgment. The petitioner did not present any evidence at the habeas trial to prove any likelihood that the outcome of his criminal trial would have been different if Beck had called Sostre to testify. The petitioner did not call Sostre as a witness at the habeas trial and, thus, it was not possible to find that Sostre's testimony would have aided the petitioner at his criminal trial. The habeas court could not evaluate him as a witness or assess the likely impact of his testimony. Accordingly, the habeas court properly found that the petitioner had not established prejudice. Even if Sostre had testified in accordance with his initial statement, or if that statement was admitted, the petitioner presented no evidence corroborating the statement. In fact, evidence was presented that one individual Sostre implicated was incarcerated at the time of the murder. It strained the bounds of reason to suggest that Beck's failure to call Sostre prejudiced Thomas' defense.