People v. Space, 2018 IL App (1st) 150922 (May). Episode 490 (Duration 10:26)
This Illinois conviction for Felony murder must be reversed because the defendant shared the same felonious purpose as the underlying offense.
The jury found defendant guilty of felony murder. After denying defendant’s oral motion for a new trial, the trial court sentenced him to 45 years’ imprisonment.
We reverse defendant’s conviction for felony murder based on the State’s failure to prove both that the asserted predicate forcible felony of aggravated battery with a firearm
(1) had an independent felonious purpose and
(2) proximately resulted in the victim’s death,
and we remand the case for a new sentencing hearing on the lesser-included offense of aggravated battery with a firearm.
Defendant shot his ex girlfriend’s new boyfriend. A second man went to help and defendant then shot him.
The new boyfriend was killed.
The good Samaritan survived.
Defendant was charged by indictment with 12 counts of first degree murder, as well as two counts of attempt (first degree murder), one count of aggravated battery with a firearm, and one count of aggravated battery as to the good Samaritan.
Go With Felony Murder
The State proceeded to trial on a single count of first degree murder, which charged that defendant “without lawful justification shot and killed [the victim] with a firearm during the commission of a forcible felony, to wit: aggravated battery with a firearm” (count 11).
All other charges were nol-prossed.
The state’s theory that a felony murder happened because the victim died during the aggravated battery of the the victim’s cousin.
On appeal, defendant first contends that his conviction for felony murder should be reversed because the State did not establish a valid predicate forcible felony to sustain his conviction.
Specifically, defendant argues that his felony murder conviction cannot be based upon the predicate felony of the aggravated battery with a firearm of the good Samaritan where the evidence failed to establish both that the aggravated battery with a firearm of the Samaritan had an independent felonious purpose apart from the murder itself and proximately caused the victim’s death.
Aggravated battery, resulting in great bodily harm or permanent disability or disfigurement, is a forcible felony for purposes of the felony murder statute. 720 ILCS 5/2-8.
A person commits aggravated battery with a firearm when he, in committing a battery, knowingly or intentionally by means of the discharging of a firearm causes any injury to another person. 720 ILCS 5/12-4.2(a)(1).
Under the felony murder statute, a person who kills an individual without lawful justification commits first degree murder if, in performing the acts which cause the death he is attempting or committing a forcible felony other than second degree murder. See 720 ILCS 5/9-1(a)(3).
The purpose of the felony murder statute is to limit the violence that accompanies the commission of forcible felonies, so that anyone engaged in such violence will automatically be subject to a murder prosecution should someone be killed during the commission of a forcible felony.
Felony Murder Intent
To this end, the offense of felony murder is unique because, in order to commit felony murder, the defendant need not have had the intent to kill.
The felony-murder doctrine thus stands as a substitute for intent in cases where the defendant’s commission of a felony causes another person’s death. Therefore, in order to sustain defendant’s felony murder conviction, the State is not required to prove that he had the intent to kill.
Possible Abuse By The State
As a result of this distinction from other forms of first degree murder, our supreme court has repeatedly expressed its concern that a felony murder charge may, in effect, improperly allow the State to both eliminate the offense of second degree murder and avoid the burden of proving an intentional or knowing first degree murder.
This concern was especially paramount in cases where the same conduct forms the basis of the predicate felony and the killing.
When Felony Murder Is Not Allowed
Thus, where the acts constituting forcible felonies arise from and are inherent in the act of murder itself, those acts cannot serve as predicate felonies for a charge of felony murder. See People v. Morgan, 197 Ill. 2d 404, 447 (2001).
Moreover the predicate felony underlying a charge of felony murder must have an independent felonious purpose. It must have some independent motivation or purpose apart from the murder itself. See also People v. Alvarez-Garcia, 395 Ill. App. 3d 719, 733-34 (2009).
Here, the act constituting the aggravated battery was not an act that gave rise to or was inherent in the murder and, thus, did not run afoul of Morgan on this basis.
The State, however, did not establish that the aggravated battery with a firearm of the victim’s cousin had an independent felonious purpose apart from the murder of the victim. Our examination of the record does not yield that defendant’s conduct in shooting the cousin clearly exhibited a distinct felonious purpose, other than his motive and purpose to accomplish the murder of the victim.
In opening statements, the State told the jury that, on the night of the shootings, defendant went to Douglas Park with a “mission of murder” and a “motive” to “murder” and “get rid of” the new boyfriend. The State further stated that defendant had this “murderous intent” when he shot the victim’s cousin.
In closing arguments, the State again asserted that defendant had the motive “to rub the new boyfriend out” and that he came to the park to carry out that intent. The State further contended that defendant continued his mission to murder the new boyfriend when he shot the boyfriend’s cousin because defendant thought the cousin was “going to save the victim’s life, [maybe] this guy is going to get him to safety.”
The record shows that, when defendant fired the gun in the direction of the victim’s cousin, he was holding the victim in his arms. It is possible, as argued by the State, that defendant fired the gun at that time to prevent the cousin from saving the victim’s life. But it is also possible that defendant was intending again to shoot the victim but he hit the cousin instead.
Both of these reasonable possibilities tend to show that defendant was acting with the same felonious purpose of accomplishing the murder of the victim when he committed the aggravated battery of the cousin.
There’s Also Causation Problems
With regard to causation, defendant argues that there is no evidence that the death was the proximate result of the shooting of the helper. The victim was fatally wounded before the aggravated battery with a firearm of his cousin took place.
We agree with defendant.
Proximate Cause Theory of Liability for Felony Murder
Illinois adheres to the “proximate cause” theory of liability for felony murder, meaning liability attaches under the felony-murder rule for any death proximately resulting from the unlawful activity. See People v Brown, 2015 IL App (1st) 131552, ¶ 30 (quoting People v. Lowery, 178 Ill. 2d 462, 465 (1997)); see also Shaw, 186 Ill. 2d at 322 (“Felony murder depends solely on a cause and effect relationship between the crime committed and the resulting murder to impose liability.”).
“For the felony-murder rule to attach, the act causing the death must both occur during the underlying felony and be the direct and proximate result of the felony.” Johns, 345 Ill. App. 3d at 244. Stated differently, the focus of the proximate cause theory of liability is: “when a felon’s attempt to commit a forcible felony sets in motion a chain of events which were or should have been within his contemplation when the motion was initiated, he should be held responsible for any death which by direct and almost inevitable sequence results from the initial criminal act.” Lowery, 178 Ill. 2d at 467; Jones, 376 Ill. App. 3d 387.
Analysis On Proximate Cause
Here, the evidence showed that defendant began his crime spree that night by twice shooting the new boyfriend, with one of those gunshots hitting his chest.
Only after defendant twice shot the new boyfriend (and dealt with the weapon becoming jammed) did he turn his gun on the man helping him. Given this sequence of events, the act causing the death—the shooting of the victim—occurred before and not during the asserted predicate felony—the aggravated battery with a firearm of his cousin.
Moreover, the death was not the proximate result of the aggravated battery with a firearm of the cousin.
There was no direct or circumstantial evidence showing that, by shooting the cousin in the leg, defendant set in motion a chain of events that resulted in the death to the new boyfriend. In fact, the medical evidence was that the victim died of the gunshot wounds he sustained prior to defendant’s act of shooting the helper.
Therefore, the death was not the result of the aggravated battery with a firearm of the helper.
Because the aggravated battery with a firearm felony did not meet the causation requirement of the felony murder rule, we find that the aggravated battery with a firearm of the cousin was not a valid predicate felony.
Accordingly, given our conclusion that the aggravated battery with a firearm did not have an independent felonious purpose and that the aggravated battery with a firearm and the murder did not have the necessary causal relationship, we must reverse defendant’s felony murder conviction.
Reversed and remand for sentencing on the aggravated battery with a firearm of the cousin.