Attorneys David Hassett and John Miller successfully obtained a defense verdict in a highly-publicized action involving the fatal shooting of a convenience store clerk in East Hartford, Connecticut. The decedent, an overnight clerk working at the defendant’s convenience store, was shot and killed during an armed robbery. Attorneys Hassett and Miller represented the defendant property owner in a civil action brought by the plaintiff’s estate.
The plaintiff alleged that the defendant property owner failed to maintain adequate exterior lighting and secure the perimeter fence in an alleged “known crime” area. In particular, plaintiff’s counsel argued that the property owner was aware of a hole in the fence behind the property and knew that residents of a nearby housing complex used the hole in the fence to access the property. Further, plaintiff counsel argued that the hole presented an access point to the property for criminals.
The jury was permitted to view graphic and disturbing surveillance video depicting the armed robbery and the clerk’s untimely death. The video showed the assailant entering the store through the front door and casually shopping for several minutes before moving to the cash register to purchase several items. While the decedent, a 47-year old married man with three children, was ringing up the assailant’s purchases, the assailant drew a weapon from his pocket. He shot the decedent in the chest at point blank range. The decedent, in apparent distress, fell to the ground behind the counter. The assailant moved behind the counter, stepping over the decedent as he lay on the floor. When the cash register would not open, the assailant yanked it, pulling the cord from the socket, and hurriedly left the store.
Plaintiff counsel elicited testimony from responding police officers that the assailant’s cell phone was found near the back door, implying that the assailant had intended to exit through the back door and slip surreptitiously through the hole in the rear perimeter fence.
The jury was permitted to hear testimony about a prior robbery at the defendant’s store and previous crimes occurring at neighboring businesses. The jury was also permitted to hear testimony from the decedent’s grief stricken wife and family members who testified about the plaintiff as a father and husband and about his many charitable acts during his lifetime.
Attorneys Hassett and Miller argued, in part, that alleged inadequate exterior lighting and the hole in the fence did not constitute negligence and were not substantial factors in the unfortunate slaying. Further, they pointed out that the assailant had initially entered the premises through the front door like any other customer. Defense counsel also argued that certain post-incident photographs taken by responding police officers, which plaintiff counsel argued showed inadequate lighting, did not accurately depict the conditions at the time of the incident since the photographs were taken several hours later when neighboring stores had closed for the night
Plaintiff counsel requested that the jury award $3,000,000 to the plaintiff’s estate and advised the jury that they could assign a number they felt would be appropriate for the decedent’s wife’s loss of consortium claim.
After several hours, the jury returned with a verdict in favor of the defendant property owner.