Citation. 528 A.2d 870, 1987 Del. 1175.
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Brief Fact Summary.
The Defendant Oxendine, Sr., was convicted by jury of manslaughter for the death of his son, Jeffrey Oxendine, Jr., whom the Defendant had beaten or kicked in the abdomen. The Defendant was convicted of manslaughter, and he argued on appeal that since the Defendant’s girlfriend had already delivered a fatal blow to the victim, he did not actually cause the victim’s death.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
Contribution to or aggravation of death without acceleration of death is insufficient to establish the causation of death required for a conviction of manslaughter.
On the date in question, the Defendant’s girlfriend, Leotha Tyree, pushed the victim in the bathtub causing microscopic tears in his intestines, which led to peritonitis. The victim later complained of stomach pains, and upon seeing bruises on him, the Defendant knew that Tyree had beaten him. The next morning, the Defendant went into the victim’s bedroom and began shouting at him to get up. A neighbor reported hearing obscenities uttered by a male voice, sounds of blows being struck, and a child saying, “Please stop, Daddy, it hurts.” After hearing the sounds for five to ten minutes, the witness heard a final noise consisting of a loud thump as if someone had been kicked or punched “with a great blow.” The victim’s abdomen became swollen, and Tyree told the Defendant of the victim’s condition and urged the Defendant to take him to a hospital. The Defendant, believing the victim to be exaggerating, went out to buy a newspaper and returned home to read it. When he returned, Tyr
ee was preparing to take the victim to the hospital. The victim stopped breathing en route and was pronounced dead shortly after arriving at the hospital. A jury convicted both the Defendant and Tyree of manslaughter.
Did the Defendant’s conduct hasten death, thereby being deemed to have caused death?
To be liable for the death of another, one’s conduct must cause death. Causation is defined as the “antecedent but for which the result in question would not have occurred.”
In the case of two injuries, if a later nonlethal injury accelerates death, then the actor is liable for the death. However, where the injury merely adds to the victim’s pain without accelerating the death, the actor did not cause death.
Here, the evidence shows that the defendant did not inflict a lethal injury. Neither of the expert medical witnesses of the prosecution could state with any degree of medical certainty that the injury inflicted by the defendant contributed to the death of the child. Hence, the Defendant cannot be guilty of manslaughter.
To be criminally liable for the death of another, one must “cause” death. Causation is defined as the “antecedent but for which the result in question would not have occurred.” Where two injuries have been inflicted, the latter injury “causes” death only if it accelerates death.