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People v. Reome

June 17, 2010

THE PEOPLE &C., RESPONDENT,
v.
NATHAN J. REOME, APPELLANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Smith, J.

Defendant was convicted of participating in a rape with three other men. One of his alleged accomplices, Andrew Hilborn, was the only witness to identify him. The issue is whether Hilborn's testimony was corroborated as CPL 60.22 (1) requires. We hold that it was.

I.

The main witnesses at trial were Hilborn and the victim. Both described a rape by four men. The victim did not identify any of the four, but Hilborn said he participated in the crime with Scott MacDonald, Santino Buccina and defendant. MacDonald, Buccina and Hilborn were connected to the rape by DNA evidence, but defendant was not.

Hilborn and the victim gave detailed and very similar accounts. According to both, the victim was intoxicated and lost on the streets of Syracuse in the middle of the night when she got into a car with four men who agreed to help her. Hilborn testified that MacDonald was driving, Buccina was in the front passenger seat, and the victim sat in back with Hilborn on her left and defendant on her right; the victim, without identifying the men, described the same seating arrangement.

According to both Hilborn and the victim, the following events then took place: The victim borrowed a cell phone from one of the men and tried unsuccessfully to call someone who might help her find her way. Later, she fell asleep. While she slept, the car drove out of town, and stopped in an isolated spot. The men took the victim out of the car, removed her pants and bound her with duct tape. After she woke up, they removed the duct tape, and the driver of the car (MacDonald in Hilborn's telling) threatened her with harm unless she submitted to sex.

Both witnesses' accounts continued: The victim got back in the car and was raped, in order, by the driver, the man who had sat on her right, the man from the front passenger seat and her left-hand neighbor (MacDonald, defendant, Buccina and Hilborn in Hilborn's testimony). One of the men then returned the victim's clothing and rings, and the car drove back to Syracuse, with everyone in the same seats as before. During the drive back, the victim's right-hand neighbor (defendant, according to Hilborn) took her driver's license and appeared to enter identifying information into his cell phone. Also during the drive back, the occupants of the car had a conversation about whether they had passed the Central Square rest stop. Finally, the rapists dropped their victim off in Syracuse, near a hotel.

In addition to the testimony of Hilborn and the victim, the People produced other testimony and documentary evidence. We will describe later in this opinion the parts of it we think most relevant.

The jury acquitted defendant of personally raping the victim, but convicted him on three counts of rape as an accomplice and one count of conspiracy. The Appellate Division affirmed, with two Justices dissenting. An Appellate Division Justice granted permission to appeal to this Court, and we now affirm.

II.

CPL 60.22 (1) says: "A defendant may not be convicted of any offense upon the testimony of an accomplice unsupported by corroborative evidence tending to connect the defendant with the commission of such offense."

The "corroborative evidence" required by this statute need not be powerful in itself. "The corroborative evidence need not show the commission of the crime; it need not show that defendant was connected with the commission of the crime. It is enough if it tends to connect the defendant with the commission of the crime in such a way as may reasonably satisfy the jury that the accomplice is telling the truth" (People v Dixon, 231 NY 111, 116 [1921] [citations omitted]). "[T]he role of the additional evidence is only to connect the defendant with the commission of the crime, not to prove that he committed it. The accomplice testimony, if credited by the jury, may serve the latter purpose" (People v Hudson, 51 NY2d 233, 238 [1980]). Indeed, we have said that "much less evidence and of a distinctly inferior quality is sufficient to meet the slim corroborative linkage to otherwise independently probative evidence from accomplices" (People v Breland, 83 NY2d 286, 294 [1994]). Still, if the corroboration requirement is not met, a conviction cannot stand.

Here, as our summary above makes clear, the great bulk of Hilborn's testimony was corroborated by the victim. But the victim did not, as defendant emphasizes, corroborate one critical detail, defendant's identity -- and therefore, defendant argues, her testimony was not evidence "tending to connect the defendant with the commission of [the] offense." Evidence showing that, in general, the accomplice told the truth is not enough, in defendant's view; he argues that there must be evidence independently pointing to him as the offender.

Defendant's argument finds support in People v Hudson, where we said:

"To meet the statutory mandate the corroborative evidence must be truly independent; reliance may not to any extent be placed on testimony of the accomplice for to do so would be to rely on a bootstrap" (51 NY2d at 238). Hudson would require that we consider only evidence that is "independent" in the sense that it could be viewed ...


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