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Testimony begins in 2010 New Haven slaying trial

March 23, 2017
New Haven Register

NEW HAVEN >> The police officer who discovered Kenneth Thomas lying mortally wounded near the intersection of Charles and Orchard streets seven years ago testified Thursday that Thomas was unresponsive and there were no witnesses then on the scene.

New Haven Police Sgt. Elliot Rosa, who was at that time a patrol officer, was the prosecution’s lead-off witness in the trial of Errie McClendon, 26, of Henry Street. He is charged with felony murder and accessory to attempted first-degree robbery.

Rosa said he was working the third shift (11 p.m. to 7 a.m.) in Newhallville April 10, 2010, when ShotSpotter, the city’s remote gunfire detection system, recorded a sound at about 4:15 a.m., causing the police dispatcher to send Rosa to that intersection.

“As I approach the intersection, I see what appears to be a male lying down on the ground,” Rosa recalled.

He said he got out of his squad car and ran over to the victim.

“He was lying face-up,” Rosa said. “Blood was coming out of his mouth. I asked him if he’s OK. There was no response.”

Rosa immediately called for medical aid and looked to see if anybody was nearby. But he said, “Nobody was around.”

Rosa also testified there were no weapons or other items anywhere near Thomas.

Senior Assistant State’s Attorney Brian Sibley Sr. projected on the courtroom wall a photo of Thomas, his face bloodied, lying sprawled on the ground.

The state’s second witness, Officer Tyrell Robinson, said he was also dispatched to the scene, arriving shortly after Rosa.

Robinson said of the victim, “He appeared to be gravely injured. He appeared to have injuries to his neck.” Thomas has been shot there twice.

Robinson said he knocked on doors of nearby residences but found no eyewitnesses. Referring to the occupants of a home on Orchard Street, Robinson said, “They just told me they heard two gunshots.”

Police Officer Joshua Smereczynsky then testified he followed the ambulance to the Hospital of St. Raphael, where Thomas was pronounced dead. Smereczynsky said he collected Thomas’ personal belongings for evidence. He recalled there was $77 in cash in his wallet.

The jurors also heard from New Haven police Detective Ryan McFarland, who testified that in May 2015 he was assigned to speak with the man who would become the state’s key witness in the cases against McClendon and co-defendant Nathan Johnson.

Johnson was tried earlier this year on a charge of murdering Thomas. But on Jan. 25 that jury reported to Superior Court Judge Thomas V. O’Keefe Jr. that they were deadlocked. O’Keefe declared a mistrial; Johnson will be re-tried.

The key witness, who is expected to testify in McClendon’s trial, testified in Johnson’s trial he knows both defendants and was with them the night of the shooting. He said he saw McClendon hand Johnson a gun and that Johnson then shot the victim (Thomas) in the face.

McFarland testified Thursday, as he did in Johnson’s trial, that when police learned the key witness had information on an unsolved homicide, the detective met with him at Whalley Avenue Correctional Center. Several days later McFarland brought the witness to police headquarters to tape his account of what he allegedly had seen.

During that taping, McFarland said, the witness picked out McClendon’s photo from a photo array of eight individuals, said that was “Buck” (McClendon’s nickname) and said he was “positive” of his identification. He also picked out Johnson’s photo from a second array.

McFarland said he made no promises to the witness that he would receive lenient treatment in court on his pending cases in exchange for his cooperation. “We don’t make promises,” McFarland testified.

But McFarland said he did write two letters to Supervisory Assistant State’s Attorney David Strollo, notifying him that the witness was cooperating in the murder case. The witness faces multiple charges of selling illegal drugs, failure to appear in court and criminal possession of a firearm.

Under cross-examination by defense attorney Richard Reeve, McFarland said he saw the witness again in the summer of 2016 and at that time the man was not incarcerated but still awaiting sentencing.

When Reeve asked if this meant the witness had been released on a written promise to appear in court for his charges, McFarland said he didn’t know.

McFarland told Reeve he also had been unaware when interviewing the witness that he faces up to 40 years in prison on his pending charges.

“You don’t care about his background when you’re interviewing a man on a cold case murder?” Reeve asked.

McFarland replied: “It’s just intelligence gathering.”

McClendon, who is being held in lieu of $750,000 bail, listened attentively to the day’s testimony.

Superior Court Judge Jon C. Blue is presiding over this trial.