If you wrongfully murdered a serial killer, would you be prosecuted?

Hypothetically, suppose you saw a shady guy creeping around your yard. You draw your gun and chase after the guy. He escapes your yard and is well on his way to freedom when you shoot him a few times in the back.

Well, when the cops arrive they discover a bloody hacksaw on the victim. They go to his house and, sure enough, discover several bodies showing signs of torture. You just shot dead a serial killer who might have been scoping you out for the next victim.

But you didn’t know as much at the time - by your state of mind, you had absolutely no legal reason to shoot.

Could you be prosecuted for second degree murder or similar charges? How likely would a conviction be?

I bring this up because of this : http://www.foxnews.com/us/2014/01/18/fla-man-arrested-for-chasing-and-shooting-burglar-dead-claims-self-defense/

The guy was creeping around, and he had a gun on him. More likely than not, this man was preparing to commit a burglary or armed robbery. After the fact, given the behavior of the victim, the shooting seems justified. (a nonviolent burglar or innocent trespasser won’t carry a gun. More than likely, the victim intended to commit a crime and use the gun if necessary)

I’m not a lawyer but you absolutely could be prosecuted under that scenario. Since you had no knowledge or reason to believe he’d just hacked up a body or that you were in any immediate danger you wouldn’t have much of a leg to stand on.
That said, in terms of popular opinion, your prosecution would be problematic for a District Attorney and he/she may just decide not to. Or he may decide to prove a point by throwing book at you. Or threaten to go after you and then not after he scares you.

While your hypothetical actions might well meet the criteria for an indictment for second degree murder, it would be all too easy for a defense attorney to convince a jury not to convict you (there’s an old joke in Texas that the He Needed Killin’ defense is still acceptable). So, I could see the district attorney settling for “recklessly discharging a firearm within city limits” or some such charge that would stick and make sure you suffered some legal consequence.

See also, “prosecutorial discretion”.

You would be prosecuted on a small charge, but probably would be fined and at most get a suspended sentence.

It’s like the old question: If you execute a serial killer for a murder he didn’t commit, has justice been served?

I had nothing to do with the deaths of those two serial killers!

This serial killer fantasy is never going to happen.

What is going to happen, what actually has happened, is some yahoo decides some person is up to no good, follows them, gets in an altercation, and kills them–or is killed by them. The person in the story in the OP should be charged and tried. If it’s true he shot the other guy in the back he should be convicted. But if Florida wants to be a land of vigilantism, I guess there’s not much anyone can do to stop them.

I think someone who chases someone down for committing a rather insignificant crime and then kills them is a menace to society. I think someone inclined to extreme violence in that scenario ought to be locked up because there’s no telling when he may murder a truly innocent person for flipping him off in traffic, or something like that.

Not disagreeing it’s a crime, or someone willing to shoot under such a situation is a dangerous person. I’m just wondering about the crazy situation where the “innocent” person who was killed was far worse. Also, the person who shot the guy in the back can argue that there was “something about that guy”…

I assume you have not read any of the gun control threads here on the SDMB. :wink:

Self defence has to be reasonable in the circumstances. Would a jury find it so? Don’t think so. But as a matter of law, unless you have a lawful excuse, you may not kill anyone no matter how reprehensible.

“We’ll dismiss the murder if you plead guilty to littering.”

A serial killer being in my yard goes volumes towards reaching the “reasonable fear of my life” hurdle.

Technically, I should be charged with some type of murder because chasing someone and shooting them in the back is pretty damning against a self-defense claim, but I doubt it’d happen. And even if I was charged, I highly doubt a jury would find me guilty.

It was dumb of him to wear that “Serial Killer” neon sign, then. Otherwise you could have mistaken him for a teenager prancing your neighbor and not killed him in cold blood.

Too late to edit that autocorrect fail: pranking, dammit. Though prancing should probably be even less imposing.

Depends. What race was the burglar/serial killer?

You mistake my point. It doesn’t matter that the gunman didn’t know that the perpetrator was a serial killer at the time of the shooting. Since the cops discovered that the victim was a serial killer immediately after the shooting, it provides the shooter with an excellent cover story.

Pranksters? Hmm… I’m reminded of a scene with Dan Akroyd in Neighbors… muah-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!

I think it depends a lot on what the shooter says to the police.

If he keeps his mouth shut and asks for an attorney, he will have time to make a compelling case that he reasonably feared for his life based on evidence that will become public about the victim. Whether or not he saw the hacksaw or some other indication of it, it’s going to be difficult to make a case against him.

If he says something dumb like “No, I wasn’t afraid of him, but he was about to get away so I shot him as he was running,” then he is in a much tougher spot.

Go ahead and argue - most criminals do, I suppose. But no, you are not allowed to murder someone because there was “something about that guy”.

See, the OP’s setup doesn’t make it seem like you noticed said bloody hacksaw, or that the guy’s ID was known (since they had to go to his house and find lots of evidence and go ‘oh hey, this guy was a serial killer - we had serial killings around here?!’), I was working under the assumption that said shooter would shoot lurking dude, call cops, and go “I shot some creep lurking in my backyard, come get him down the block from my place.”

I think it’s probably safe to assume the cops would question you before investigating the dead man’s house. Meaning you would have to mention how you didn’t really look at the body, you weren’t minding your own business in the backyard when Dead Dude jumped the fence, brandished his bloody hacksaw, and said “I’m the Hacksawman of Hackensack and you’re coming with me to my torture house!”, that kind of thing.

Because if you can at least fake it and claim that you were threatened, and he was, say, not running away but turned to grab what you assumed was a gun/the branch trimmers you conveniently wiped for prints and stashed in that bush/whatever, then it’s just a simpler ‘was it self-defense?’ question rather than what I assumed the OP to intend to be a “Oh well, you ended up ridding us of a menace, so good on you for your knee-jerk vigilante act” situation.