Girlfriend of accused killer attempted to revive victim

The mother of Dirren Conyers’ two young children testified at his manslaughter trial today that she attempted to revive the man Conyers is accused of fatally strangling four years ago.

Conyers, 35, is accused of placing a choke hold on Jose Cartagena during a melee on April 13, 2008 in the Poquonnock Bridge section of Groton.

Crystal M. Russell, a 28-year-old waitress, described a dark and chaotic scene behind the Miami Court home where a group of friends and relatives had gathered after a night of heavy drinking at Sully’s, a neighborhood bar.

Russell, called by the defense, testified that she and Conyers have been together for nine years, have a son and daughter and live in Willimantic.

Russell said she was drunk when her mother picked her up from Sully’s at closing time that night and followed the group back to the home of Darryl and Stacey Sebastian, which backs up onto Industrial drive.

Russell said she went into the house to use the bathroom, and when she came out, a man was lying on the ground and her mother was screaming at a woman to “get off his chest!”

Russell said it was dark, and all she could see were shadows. She didn’t recognize the man on the ground as Cartagena, whom she had met a couple of nights earlier. She had been trained in Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation, she said, so she dropped to her knees in an attempt to revive him.

“I adjusted his head and put my fingers in his mouth,” said Russell. “When my mouth went to his mouth, his head and shoulders moved and they said he was OK.”

The fight had started when the 36-year-old Cartagena, newly introduced to the tight group of friends and relatives, said something about somebody’s mother, according to earlier testimony.

The scuffle started with Cartagena and James “Buddha” Smith, who testified earlier this week that he was so drunk he doesn’t remember what happened that night. Smith, who is charged with unlawful restraint, third-degree assault and breach of peace, testified that people pulled him off Cartagena and put him in his sister’s car.

Conyers and others got involved, and one eyewitness said that at one point, Cartagena was on the ground being punched and kicked by up to eight people.

Russell said she didn’t even see Conyers at the scene. She said after Cartagena appeared to be revived, her mother pulled her into the car and they drove away.

They were stopped by police and eventually released, Russell said, and before 8 a.m. officers were at the house where she and Conyers lived. They went to the police station for questioning, she said, describing how she spent the next 10 hours wrangling with officers about her written statement.

Russell said the police left details out of her statement, used words she would not have used and refused to let her write her own version of events. Over the next several years, even as Conyers was charged with manslaughter and released on bond, the couple fought about the incident, according to her testimony.

Russell admitted that in New London in December 2009, police were called after an argument turned physical. A police report indicates Russell had a swollen nose and dried blood in her hair but was not cooperative with the responding officers. She testified that both she and Conyers were aggressive that night.

“We were fighting over this case,” she testified. “I just want him to be truthful about what happened there and what his friends did.”

Conyers has been free on a $250,000 bond while his case was pending.

Lawyers for the state and Conyers are expected to deliver closing arguments on Monday. The six-member jury will then begin deliberating after receiving instruction from Judge Barbara B. Jongbloed.





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