Thursday, February 25, 2010

Chicago Criminal lawyer comments on the lack of a felony murder charge in a cop's death

This Chicago Criminal lawyer was surprised to hear the Chicago Police Superintendent Weis wanted felony murder charges to be filed because a police officer died (in a car accident) while responding to a call of a burglary.

February 23, Chicago, ILAs officers mourned the death of a Town Hall District sergeant killed in a crash while responding to a burglary, Chicago Police Supt. Jody Weis said the department is determining whether murder charges can be brought against the burglars if they are caught.

"Under Illinois statutes it appears they could be charged with murder... that is something I think that we'll be looking at with the state's attorney's office," Weis said. "But I think it's something that we certainly will consider."

But Weis said the circumstances behind Monday's crash on Lake Shore Drive near the Irving Park exit remain under investigation.

He said the department is checking with the Cook County state's attorney's office to see if felony murder charges could be lodged against the burglars who broke into a cell phone store in the 3100 block of North Clark Street. Haymaker was headed when his car crashed.The State's Attorney's Office probably looked at this particular tragedy and decided that it was too attenuated to charge the defendant with felony murder because a car accident took an officer's life on his way to the site of the burglary.

February 25, Chicago, Il

Police Supt. Jody Weis had said earlier this week that prosecutors might charge anyone involved in Monday's burglary of a cellphone company on North Clark Street with felony murder, based on the legal theory that the commission of the burglary led to the death of Haymaker, 56, a third-generation Chicago cop who worked out of the Town Hall district on the city’s North Side.

But Simonton said today: “There is not sufficient legal basis to charge the offender . . . . . . in connection with the death of Sgt. Haymaker. While we certainly understand the pain and anguish felt by the Chicago Police Department in the wake of this tragedy, we don’t have the evidence that would be required to meet the burden of proof to sustain a felony murder charge.”

At a court appearance today, Cook County Judge Ramon Ocasio III set bail for Brown at $100,000 on the new charge but ordered him held without bail because his latest arrest was a violation of the terms of his probation for an earlier burglary conviction.
Felony murder is a legal doctrine. It essentially holds the defendant responsible for deaths resulting from a different felony. For example, if a defendant robs a bank, complete with a loaded gun, and ends up killing a bank customer during the robbery that customer's death could be charged under the felony murder doctrine.

In this specific case, the officer's death is too far removed from the burglary of the cell phone store. Felony murder may have been charged if the officer had died, for example, in a car accident while chasing the burglary suspects. Frequently, felony murder is not charged because the accused could be found guilty of murder regardless of the doctrine.

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