Groton manslaughter case headed to trial

Jury selection is under way in Superior Court in Norwich for the trial of Dirren Conyers, who is accused of fatally strangling José Cartagena during a melee in Groton four years ago.

The trial is expected to begin Aug. 27 before Judge Barbara Bailey Jongbloed and to last two to three weeks.

Conyers, 35, has been free on a $250,000 bond while his case was pending. He is charged with first-degree manslaughter and first-degree unlawful restraint. In opting for a trial, he turned down three plea offers from the state. The first offer involved a 15 year prison sentence. The second offer involved a 10 year sentence and third offer was for six years served.

Assistant State’s Attorney Christa L. Baker is prosecuting the case and attorney Tina Sypek D’Amato is representing Conyers.

According to court documents, Cartagena, 36, died April 13, 2008, after becoming entangled with a group of people who had gathered outside a house on Miami Court after closing time at Sully’s Cafe, a local bar. At one point, seven or eight people were kicking and punching him as he lay on the ground, according to a witness.

Conyers is accused of placing Cartagena in a choke hold until he stopped breathing. Police also charged a second man, James D. Smith, with unlawful restraint, third-degree assault and second-degree breach of peace. Smith’s case is pending.

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