Felony murder when another perpetrator dies

In December 2011, Sarah McKinley, a teenage widow in Oklahoma, shot and killed a man who was breaking into her house. Dustin Stewart, the dead man’s partner-in-crime, was charged with felony murder. Was Dustin convicted?

I’ve googled him, but the latest thing I can find is a news clipping from May, 2012, that states that his murder trial will start in October, 2012. I can find nothing further.

According to THIS it looks like the thing is still going on and won’t continue until August of this year.

I read one report that put this whole story in a different light. This report said that McKinley didn’t own the trailer; she had been renting it. And when her husband died she hadn’t been able to keep up on the rent.

The owner of the trailer thought she had moved out and hired two guys to go clear the trailer out. When they got to the trailer, which they thought was unoccupied, they found it was barricaded shut. So they poked away at the doors and windows, trying to find a way inside.

They found a weak barricade and started breaking their way in. McKinley, who had been hiding inside, then shot one of them.

I don’t know if this version of the story is true or not.

The dead guy had a 12" hunting knife in a gloved hand.

Also, the surviving perp admitted they went there looking for drugs and had taken hydrocodone 30 minutes before.

Here’s another interesting case along that line:
“An Alabama judge set $200,000 bonds today for three teenagers charged with felony murder in the death of 17-year-old girl who was allegedly helping them burglarize fishing camps when she was shot by a homeowner.”

Later followup:

I said I didn’t know if the story is true or not. But I’ll point out that knives and gloves are the kinds of things you use when you’re going into a place that’s been boarded shut. It’s not proof of criminal intent.

The landlord has supposedly confirmed that he sent Justin Martin and Dustin Stewart to the trailer and told them it was unoccupied. And when Martin was shot, Stewart’s reaction was to call 911 and tell the police that somebody had just shot his friend - this doesn’t seem like the reaction who thought he was committing a crime.

Other rumors are also floating around. Some people are saying that Martin and Stewart had been stalking McKinley for months. Others are saying that Martin and McKinley had been having an affair and that Martin was the real father of McKinley’s son.

One hears of stories like this from time to time. The general rule seems to be: If two or more people are participating in a crime (or maybe, in particular, a serious crime, that is, a felony), and if anyone dies during the commission of the crime, then all the participants are guilty of murder.

It seems like a really strange principle, but apparently it’s common.

I recall reading of one such event, some years ago. A guy robbed a bank. During his attempted escape, he was shot and killed by the police. Then the police (apparently having some reason to believe that his wife helped him plan it) went to his home and arrested his wife. She was charged with conspiracy to commit bank robbery AND she was charged with murder for the death of her husband.

If I got stuck on a jury for a case like that, I’d have a hard time upholding a law like that. Maybe some lesser charge would be reasonable.

This is definitely true. You can be charged with felony murder if you were committing a felony and anyone died as a result of the felony. There doesn’t have to be any intent to commit murder or even negligence or recklessness. And you don’t have to be the person who caused the death. The details can vary depending on jurisdiction.

I’ve heard it explained thus:

Bad consequences - including death - can reasonably be expected from violent felonies. To plan and execute one is to invite those bad consequences to happen, and thus it’s appropriate to hold the perp accountable if and when they do.

It’s not always anyone’s death- in New York, felony murder only applies to the death of a non-participant.

It’s a primarily American concept. Although it has it roots in the common law, it’s been abolished by statute in England and Wales and by a decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in Canada. The Court held that the lack of any intent to kill or negligence leading to death meant that it violated the principles of fundamental justice (the Canadian equivalent to the due process clauses in the US Constitution).

Problem, though, this makes it too easy for police to enter an active crime scene with guns a-blazing, with too little regard for who gets killed (perps or bystanders), and never have to be held accountable, just so long as there is someone else they can nail it on.

This applies also in less-than-life-or-death cases. Police may also, with relative impunity, create any amount of property damage in chasing a fleeing criminal (for example). When the victims of that property damage attempt to sue the police, the answer is always: Not our responsibility! Sue the perp! (Good luck with that.)

There was a case in Los Osos (Ca.) some years ago: Fleeing perp hopped over a fence into a private yard. Cops pursued, but not by hopping over the same fence. They knocked the fence down, and the property owner’s horse got out. (I don’t know if the horse got injured.) Owner sued (at least for the property damage; I don’t know about the horse), and cops defended on the grounds that the perp was liable. (I don’t recall if they ever even knew who the perp was.)

I observed a small-claims case in Santa Clara (Ca.) once: Cops bust into an apartment looking for drugs and did some minor damage. Not tearing the walls out and such, but damage to the doors and locks that they kicked in. IIRC, they didn’t have a warrant either, and I don’t think they found any drugs. Apartment owner sued the city. City defended, saying it was the tenant’s liability. (For what? Just because they suspected there were drugs there?)

What does civic cases have to do with criminal cases? What does minor property damage have to do with murder?

This doesn’t sound plausible: just because one person is guilty of “felony murder” (i.e., death while he was committing a felony) doesn’t mean that another person can’t be charged with murder (or manslaughter or whatever) in the same crime.

If Justin and Dustin were sent to bust in, the law should grant a little leniency, just because.

Similar situation in Phoenix a few years back. High speed chase, news copters crash, driver charged. He pled out so we’ll never know how the courts ruled but I remember at the time that the notion of commit a felony = liable for absolutely everything that happens afterwards was contraversial. At issue was reasonableness. If he led the police on a chase then it is reasonable to expect a car/pedestrian may be hit. It is not reasonable to expect two news copters to crash into each other.

Even if they were instructed by a 3rd party, once they knew that the property was occupied, it became a felony (unless they ceased).

Here’s an extreme example of felony murder (as told to me by a criminal justice professor): Two men try to rob a bank. The police are summoned and surround the bank. One of the perpetrators surrenders and is taken to jail. An hour later, the other perpetrator kills a teller. Both men are guilty of felony murder.

It gets complicated and can vary. In some places, you can’t be convicted of felony murder if you had ceased to participate in the crime at the time (and being arrested would clearly establish that) that the death occurred. But it can also make a difference whether you chose to withdraw from the crime (so if you turned yourself in to the police, you’re okay but if they caught you, you’re not) and whether your accomplices were aware you had withdrawn (so if you were the driver of the getaway car and decided to quit and go home before the murder occurred, it doesn’t count unless the robbers inside knew you had driven away).

Here’s another felony murder scenario I once asked but no one answered:

Adam, Betty, and Chris go to rob a bank. Betty, the getaway driver, stays in the car. Hearing sirens, Betty thinks the police have been summoned and flees the scene without Adam and Chris. The sirens are really fire trucks. Betty kills Doug, a pedestrian, as she’s fleeing the scene, but 1/2 mile away from the bank and without the cops in pursuit.

Adam and Chris are probably not going to face a murder charge. Betty had abandoned the crime they had been jointly committed. So her reckless driving would probably be considered a criminal act that was distinct from the robbery.