A murderer is a person who unlawfully kills another person, right? Wrong! According to certain laws, a person does not need to kill another person before they can be arrested and charged with murder. In fact, they do not even need to be at the murder scene.
These “murderers” are usually charged under controversial laws that hold them liable for murders that occurred during crimes they were involved in or had aided or encouraged. Many do not understand how a person who didn’t kill anyone could be charged with murder, hence the controversy. These laws remain a gray area of justice where even the innocent can earn long jail terms.
In 2015, 16-year-old A’Donte Washington was killed during a shootout with Alabama police officers. Washington was part of a five-man gang that broke into two homes and stole a car. The gang was fleeing the crime scene when they were chased by police officers.
During the chase, 19-year-old Jhavarske Jackson shot at officers as they closed in on the gang, and the police returned fire, killing Washington. Police later said Washington was shot because he also had a gun.
While it was obvious that Washington was shot and killed by the police, it was Lakeith Smith, another gang member who was 15 years old at the time of the shooting, who received a 30-year sentence for the death of Washington. He also received another 35-year sentence for burglary.
Under Alabama law, a criminal can be prosecuted for any death that occurred during a crime, even if they were not the one who killed the person. Smith would have received a 25-year sentence for the murder and burglary charges if he had agreed to a plea deal. However, he refused it, while the other gang members agreed.
In 2011, 36-year-old shoplifter Mervin Bettis was apprehended as he attempted stealing from a Target store in Florida. He was caught by Russell Horner, a former FBI agent and security officer who worked at the store. Horner had just handcuffed Bettis when he had a heart attack that would later kill him.
Bettis was charged with third-degree murder for Horner’s death. Under Florida law, a criminal can be charged with first- or second-degree murder if a person died during a violent crime they committed or third-degree murder if the death occurred during a nonviolent crime. Bettis received a five-year sentence for a “murder” he never committed.
Ryan Holle is serving a life sentence for the murder of 18-year-old Jessica Snyder. This is even though he was not the murderer and was 2.4 kilometers (1.5 mi) away at the time of the murder.
However, Holle was found guilty of first-degree murder because he had given his roommate, Billy Allen, the keys to his car. Allen and his gang used the car to travel to Snyder’s home, where gang mate Charles Miller murdered her.
In 2003, Billy Allen, Donnie Williams, Charles Miller, and Jermond Thomas drove to Snyder’s home in Pensacola, Florida, to steal a safe they claimed contained $20,000 in cash and some jewelry. The men had planned the operation in Holle’s presence before Allen borrowed his car. They even mentioned that they would kill Snyder, who was Allen’s girlfriend, if they found her at home.
They found Snyder at home, and Miller smashed her head repeatedly with the butt of a shotgun that was on a nearby wall. The men got the safe and fled back to Holle’s home. However, they were arrested after concerned neighbors called the police because the gang had made a lot of noise while trying to break the safe.
The four robbers and Holle were charged with murder under the Felony Murder Rule. In his defense, Holle said he never believed the others were really going to rob Snyder’s home or kill her. Unfortunately, that was not enough to convince the jury. He barely missed a death sentence and received life without parole.
Tevin Louis and Marquise Sampson of Chicago were best friends who helped each other out in everything, including crime. Things took a bad turn for the duo in 2012, when they made off with $1,200 from a restaurant. Officers went after the two boys after they fled. However, Louis and Sampson had split up.
Police had little luck with Louis, but an officer caught up with Sampson and gave chase. Sampson was shot during the pursuit. Louis later arrived at the scene of the shooting, where he was arrested for crossing the police line. Police initially charged Louis with disorderly conduct until they discovered that he was Sampson’s accomplice. Then they charged him with first-degree murder. Louis got 32 years for the robbery and 20 years for Sampson’s death.
In 2017, 36-year-old Kristoffer Thomas Craft of Leonard, Texas, crashed his truck as he drank and made phone calls while driving. With him in the truck was his seven-year-old son, Colton Craft, who was seated in the front seat and was not wearing a seat belt. Craft crawled out of the wreckage. However, what happened next was unprecedented.
Instead of rescuing his son, who was still stuck inside the truck, Craft proceeded to rescue his cans of beer that had spilled on the road. He also stopped witnesses from helping Colton or calling 911 and tried to flee the scene. Craft was charged with felony murder after Colton died of his injuries.
During Craft’s trial, it was revealed that he had previously crashed his truck while drinking and driving. The officer who responded to the accident told the court he found almost 100 beer cans around the vehicle. It was obvious that Craft was trying to clear the accident scene so that police would not know he was drinking and driving.
However, Craft denied killing his son and had his lawyers convince the judge and jury that the incident was second-degree manslaughter and not murder. Craft received an 18-year sentence for manslaughter.
In 1996, Sammy Butler shot and killed a store clerk during a robbery in Huntsville, Texas. However, it was his partner, Robert Lee Thompson, who got the death sentence.
On the fateful day, Thompson approached one of the two clerks in a Seven Evenings store and asked for money. However, he shot the clerk, Mubarakali Meredia, four times before he could give him the money. He also shot at the other clerk, Mansoor Rahim, who was at the back of the store, twice.
Thompson tried shooting Meredia a fifth time, this time aiming for his neck, but he’d run out of bullets. So he proceeded to beat Meredia. Both men fled after the robbery and had jumped into their getaway vehicle when they saw Rahim chase after them. This time, Butler shot at Rahim twice. The shots would prove fatal.
Thompson and Butler were tried under the “law of parties,” under which a person can be convicted of murder if they aided or encouraged another person to commit a crime that caused a death. Investigations also revealed that Thompson and Butler had been involved in eight previous robberies, some of which also resulted in deaths. Butler received a life sentence, while Thompson received a death sentence. Thompson was executed in November 2009.
Justin Doyle was 15 years old in 2008, when he and his friends broke into what they thought was an empty house near Rockford, Illinois. Unfortunately for them, things did not go as planned, since there was someone home. The unnamed guest opened fire on the boys when he saw them stealing some guns. The bullet hit 14-year-old Travis Castle, killing him.
The guest was not charged with Castle’s death. Instead, it was Justin Doyle. Just Doyle. Not even the third teenager, Nathan Whitmire. Doyle was charged under the Illinois felony murder law that holds a person responsible for any death that occurs during a robbery. The law is very controversial, since the person charged with the murder does not need to be present at the crime scene.
Doyle was sentenced to 30 years’ imprisonment, while Whitmire received a lighter sentence and was released in 2013. Doyle’s sentence was commuted in April 2017, even though he was not eligible for release until 2023, when he would have served half of his sentence. He was released as part of Governor Bruce Rauner’s attempt to promote rehabilitation instead of imprisonment.
In 2009, some robbers raided the Central Valley, California, home of Gary and Sandra DeBartolo, hoping to steal the marijuana the couple supposedly kept at home. Whatever happened, they ended up killing the couple by slitting their throats. All six were charged under California’s felony murder law.
One of the robbers was 27-year-old Neko Wilson, who was charged with murder, even though he was not even inside the house during the robbery. He was inside a vehicle outside the home. However, he was charged because he was involved in planning the robbery.
In 2018, Wilson was saved from a possible death sentence after Governor Jerry Brown made some changes to the felony murder law. Wilson’s murder charge was dropped, and he accepted a plea deal for robbery and several other smaller offenses. He had already served nine years in prison while awaiting trial and was released. However, not all the robbers were lucky. One of them, Dawn Singh, received life imprisonment without parole.
Things appear pretty straightforward in the case pf Danny Smith Jr. of Peoria, Illinois. In December 2016, 41-year-old Maunds Bryant had just won $420,000 in a lottery, and Smith wanted a piece of the winnings. Since he could not ask nicely, he kidnapped Bryant and his stepfather and demanded $25,000 in ransom money.
Unfortunately, Bryant suffered from Lou Gehrig’s disease and couldn’t walk. He fell to the ground during the kidnapping and hit his head. This later lead to his death. Smith was charged with murder and received a 48-year sentence.
On December 2, 2017, 22-year-old Brittney Mikesell and her boyfriend, 21-year-old Cullen Hedrick, went to the Cardinal Ridge mobile home park in Bloomington, Illinois, to fight an unnamed man. Hedrick armed himself with a machete and challenged the man as he entered the park. The man attacked Hedrick, stabbing him in the chest. The stabbing proved fatal; Hedrick died in a hospital.
However, it was Mikesell who was charged with Hedrick’s murder. Investigators revealed that Mikesell and Hedrick had attacked two other people in two separate mobile home parks few days earlier, on November 28. Hedrick beat one of their victims with a bat, and a woman was pepper-sprayed. Mikesell also spit on an emergency medical technician as they transported Hedrick to a hospital. Her bond was set at $2 million.