Well, the trial of 26-year-old Michael Stallings from Boston (hereinafter, the “Defendant”) is over. While it ended in a conviction, the defense is likely counting it as a “win”.
The Defendant was acquitted of the top count, Murder in the First Degree, but convicted on the lesser charges of Involuntary Manslaughter and gun possession.
The facts arose out of a sadly frequent scene we have all heard about. Gang violence. Gang warfare.
The Defendant claims that someone from a rival gang began shooting at him on a street in January 2012. The Defendant fired back into a crowd of people. His spray of bullets did not hit anybody, but obviously caused some folks to flee.
One of said “folks” was Kelvin Rowell. He was 40 years old and at the proverbial “wrong place, wrong time”. No connection to the gang violence.
He did have asthma though.
As he ran from the violence, he had an asthma attack and collapsed.
He fell into a coma and then died six weeks later.
You may wish to check out the original news story on CBS News.
Attorney Sam’s Take On Violence, Accidents And Transferred Intent
“Sam, what could have been the defense here?”
Assuming that the defense agreed that the Defendant had been a shooter, the defense may well have claimed self defense in the shooting. However, there would clearly be witness testimony as to how many shots were fired in total. If the defense claimed either “It wasn’t me” or “I was legally just trying to save myself or others”, clearly the jury did not buy it.
The jury clearly held the Defendant responsible for the shots.
“So, why would the defense count this as a victory?”
The Commonwealth wanted to convict the Defendant of Murder in the First Degree. If the jury had gone with the Commonwealth’s theory, the Defendant would now be serving a mandatory sentence of Life without Parole.
As it stands now, the Defendant is facing a sentence in the range between probation (no jail time) to twenty years in state prison.
That, in itself, is a win.
“Was the Commonwealth alleging that the Defendant intentionally killed the guy who died? I thought none of the bullets hit him.”
The Commonwealth was probably not claiming that the Defendant meant to kill Rowell. However, there are a couple legal theories which you need to remember.
First of all is the theory of “transferred intent”. Let’s say I woke up one fine day and decided to shoot and murder person A. When I tried to shoot A, I accidently hit and killed B instead. Under the law, I had attempted to kill A (intentionally) and so I do not get a “pass” for having lousy aim. My intention to kill A is transferred to B. It is still an intentional killing under the law.
Further, it was foreseeable that I might hit someone else when I tried to murder A. I am guilty of the foreseeable results of my crime.
Finally, there is a theory of a depraved indifference to human life. I fire the gun into a crowd, I have shown such indifference.
These things can make the difference between a manslaughter or a murder charge.
The jury clearly believed that the Defendant shot the gun and apparently did not believe he was justified in doing so (such as in valid self-defense).
It would seem, however, that the overall occurrence explains somewhat why he fired the gun. Perhaps he did fire the gun out of fear, although that fear was not reasonable enough to justify the shooting. This is how they probably ended up with manslaughter. In any event, it was foreseeable that people would run when the shooting started. The fact that Mr. Rowell had an asthma condition was the Defendant’s bad luck.
One takes one’s victim as one finds him.
The fact that the Defendant was walking around with an illegal gun (which they also convicted him for) probably did not help too much either.
My suggestion? If you have such a gun? Leave it at home.
In the meantime, have a great, safe and law-abiding weekend!