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Murder conviction affirmed despite trial judge error

Judge's 'error is harmless'

By: Bennett Loudon//October 2, 2023

Murder conviction affirmed despite trial judge error

Judge's 'error is harmless'

By: Bennett Loudon//October 2, 2023//

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A state appeals court has affirmed a murder conviction despite an error by the trial judge.

Defendant Dayquane T. Coley, 28, was convicted in September 2014 in state Supreme Court before Justice Francis A. Affronti of second-degree murder, attempted second-degree murder, second-degree assault, and second-degree criminal possession of a weapon.

In a decision released Friday, the Appellate Division of state Supreme Court, Fourth Department, unanimously affirmed the convictions.

Coley, 28, was sentenced to a minimum of 52 years, five months, and two days in state prison, and a maximum of life.

On Nov. 27, 2013, Coley fatally shot Steven Killings and wounded David Donaldson at the intersection of Colvin and Maple streets in Rochester.

Coley got in the back seat of a car to conduct a drug transaction. He shot Killings four times in the head. He shot Donaldson once in the head.

Coley’s appellate attorney, Timothy S. Davis, argued that Coley’s right to confront a witness was violated when Affronti denied a defense motion to preclude reference to statements made by a codefendant who told investigators that he gave Coley a gun before Coley got in the car.

Investigators confronted Coley with those statements, and a recording of that interview was introduced in evidence.

“We agree with defendant that the court erred in denying the motion,” the Fourth Department wrote.

The prosecution argued that the codefendant’s statements were admissible for the non-hearsay purpose of showing the state of mind of the investigators, “specifically, that the investigators wanted to get defendant to admit to something,” the court wrote.

The Fourth Department wrote that there was no reason to show the investigators’ state of mind when they were questioning the defendant.

“Their state of mind was simply not relevant to any issue in the case,” the court wrote.

The court also noted that the codefendant’s statements were not relevant to show the circumstances surrounding the interrogation and why the interrogation proceeded because the defense did not raise issues concerning the voluntariness of Coley’s statement or the circumstances of the interrogation.

Coley did not make any further admissions after being confronted with the codefendant’s statements.

“After being confronted with the codefendant’s statements, defendant simply stated that the codefendant was lying,” the court wrote.

“We therefore conclude that the court erred in denying the motion inasmuch as no relevant non-hearsay purpose for introducing the codefendant’s statements was identified,” the court wrote.

Regardless, the court concluded that “the error is harmless.”

“The evidence was overwhelming, and there was no reasonable possibility that the error contributed to the conviction,” the court wrote.

Besides Donaldson’s testimony that Coley shot him and Killings, there was surveillance video showing a man entering and exiting the victims’ vehicle, and Coley admitted that he was the person in the video entering and exiting the car.

Also, in a recorded jail call made shortly after his interview with the police, Coley said that the police “have the video” and have “everything that happened,” according to the Fourth Department decision.

Davis also argued that Affronti did not follow the correct procedure with respect to a jury note because he did not advise defense counsel of the note.

“We reject that contention,” the Fourth Department wrote.

The note asked for Donaldson’s written statement to an investigator, which was not admitted in evidence, so Affronti only needed to inform the jury that a requested item was not in evidence, the court wrote.

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