State high court hears appeal of former death-row inmate

Hartford
Lazale Ashby.jpg

Lawyers for a former Connecticut death row inmate argued at the state Supreme Court on Monday that Lazale Ashby did not receive a fair trial.

Ashby is serving a life sentence for the 2002 rape, kidnapping and strangulation of Elizabeth Garcia, who was killed while her 2-year-old daughter watched television in another room.

DNA evidence linked Ashby to the crime in Hartford, as did his own statements, including one obtained from Ashby by a jailhouse informant. Defense attorneys argued in their appeal that the prisoner was working for prosecutors and should not have been allowed to testify during the trial.

Prosecutors countered that the informant was not an “agent of the state” and authorities had no pre-existing plan to have him gather information from Ashby.

“There is no constitutional violation … when, as here, an informant, on his own initiative, voluntarily reports a defendant’s incriminating statements to the police,” prosecutors wrote in their appellate brief.

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Ashby’s attorneys also argued the judge improperly excluded evidence and mishandled instructions on Ashby’s claim that he had consensual sex with the victim and that another man’s DNA was found on her body.

“Evidence of third-party culpability need only raise more than a bare suspicion that someone else committed the crime to be admissible,” Ashby’s public defenders argued in their brief.

They also argued that a judge should have allowed his lawyers to present messages from the victim’s answering machine that they say could have called into question the time of the woman’s death.

Prosecutors allege Ashby held Garcia inside her apartment overnight from Dec. 1, 2002, into Dec. 2, 2002.

Ashby is one of 11 former death row inmates now serving life in prison after the state’s highest court ruled the death penalty unconstitutional in 2015.

He also is serving a 25-year sentence for fatally shooting another Hartford woman, Nahshon Cohen, in 2003.

A decision from the state Supreme Court is not expected for several months.

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