Archive for Tuesday, December 5, 2000

Justices to mull ‘murder’ question

Douglas County prosecutors appeal judge’s ruling tossing out charge

December 5, 2000

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— Maurice Murphy didn't pull the trigger on the gun that killed his partner in crime. But the state should be allowed to try him for murder anyway, a Douglas County prosecutor argued Monday.

"The status of the victim, the culpability of the victim, does not determine the sanctity of human life," Assistant Douglas County Dist. Atty. Angela Wilson said.

Wilson made that argument Monday to the Kansas Supreme Court on an appeal of a 1998 case resulting from a Lawrence burglary gone bad.

According to prosecutors, Murphy, then 19, was among a group of armed men that on May 27, 1998 went to rob a home in the 1600 block of Kenwood. As the men were leaving the home, one of the robbery victims pulled a gun and shot Jimmy Johnson, one of the robbers. Johnson died.

Prosecutors charged Murphy with murder, saying that since Johnson died during Murphy's crime even though Johnson also was committing the crime, and even though Murphy didn't pull the trigger Murphy and the other robbers should be held responsible.

Douglas County District Judge Robert Fairchild disagreed, throwing out the murder count. Murphy later pleaded to reduced robbery charges and was sentenced to "boot camp" at Oswego. Another co-defendant, Dustin Welch, is serving an eight-year prison sentence on robbery and kidnapping charges.

Prosecutors appealed Fairchild's ruling "on a question reserved" meaning that even if the Supreme Court overturns the decision, Murphy will suffer no consequences in fact, he's already free. Instead, prosecutors want to ensure they can file similar murder charges in the future.

Wilson argued that Kansas law allows for murder prosecutions where someone dies while the defendant is committing or fleeing from an "inherently dangerous felony."

She said "the person who created the situation (should) be held responsible for the death of a co-felon."

But defense attorney Kathleen Downey argued that Johnson's death at the hands of the crime victim should be an exception.

"There is absolutely nothing about the victim firing at the felons that was done to further the crime," she said. "It was done to thwart the act."

The justices seemed skeptical of Downey's reasoning.

"The Legislature says to me, very clearly that any death that occurs in the commission of a felony is the responsibility of the felon," Justice Donald Allegrucci said.

Court officials indicated a decision should come around Jan. 26.

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