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Dowden v. State

    Brief Fact Summary.

    While attempting to help his brother escape from jail, Defendant began shooting at officers. During an altercation, Defendant and one officer ended up in a separate room. One of the officers outside shot and killed the man that came out of the room, believing it was Defendant, however, it was the other officer. Defendant was convicted of the murder even though evidence showed that the bullets came from the officer outside of the room. Defendant appealed.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    Under the felony-murder rule, if a defendant intentionally commits acts that are likely to kill, he may be convicted of murder, even if evidence shows the victim was actually killed by another person.

    Facts.

    Dowden’s (Defendant) brother was arrested and held in the city jail at the police station. Defendant decided to help his brother escape and went with his sister-in-law and a friend, Clifford Blansett, to the police station with a rifle and a pistol. Upon entering, Defendant slammed open the door, pointed the automatic gun at two officers, and said he was there to get his brother. One of the officers, Captain Gray, lunged at Defendant, grabbing him and forcing him into the hallway. The door closed behind them. Officer Windham and a dispatcher, Denton, were in the office and could not see what was happening, but they heard a shot fired. Windham and Denton assumed Defendant had killed Captain Gray, because they could no longer see the officer. Windham and Denton then exchanged gunfire with Defendant. Windham heard movement in the hallway, and Denton yelled, “[h]e’s coming through the door.” After another gunshot, the door flung open, and Windham immediately shot three times while on his knees. Windham admitted that he did not look before he fired, because he thought it could only be Defendant coming through the door. It was soon discovered that the man lying in the doorway was not Defendant, but Captain Gray. Examination of the bullets indicated that Windham had killed Captain Gray. Defendant confessed to the events, stating that he opened the door to the office and started shooting after an officer lunged at him. Defendant was convicted of capital murder for the death of Captain Gray and sentenced to life in prison. Defendant appealed, arguing that the trial court erred in not granting his motion for a directed not-guilty verdict, because the evidence clearly showed that Officer Windham shot and killed Captain Gray. Defendant also complained that the court misinterpreted Texas’s penal code § 6.04(a), which states that a person is responsible if the result would not have occurred but for his conduct, either alone or together with another cause, unless the other cause was clearly sufficient to produce the result and the actor’s conduct clearly insufficient.

    Issue.

    Whether under the felony-murder rule, a defendant who intentionally commits acts that are likely to kill may be convicted of murder, even if evidence shows the victim was actually killed by another person.

    Held.

    Yes. Defendant’s conviction is affirmed. Under the felony-murder rule, if a defendant intentionally commits acts that are likely to kill, he may be convicted of murder, even if evidence shows the victim was actually killed by another person.

    Dissent.

    The majority inappropriately attempted to define the limits of culpable causation even though § 6.04 already provides such limitations. The court instead relied on a proximate-cause standard. Windham’s act of shooting was a concurrent cause of Gray’s death, as contemplated by the statute, and it was also clearly sufficient to cause that result, while Defendant’s conduct, even in intentionally entering the station with a conscious disregard for life, was, by itself, clearly insufficient. Defendant’s disregard for life would not have resulted in Gray’s death if Windham had not shot Gray.

    Discussion.

    When a defendant engages in conduct that is likely to kill, with a conscious disregard for life, he will be guilty of murder, even if another person completes the act. In People v. Gilbert, 63 Cal. 2d 69 (1965), the defendant was convicted of murdering his accomplice, even though the victim was actually killed by a police officer. There, the court stated that initiating a gun battle shows malice and that under such circumstances, the defendant may be convicted of murder for a killing someone else committed. Here, Defendant voluntarily acted in entering the station and shooting, and the evidence, including his own confession, is sufficient to prove that he knowingly caused the death of Captain Gray. Defendant acted intentionally, and he confirmed that he was aware of the nature of his acts and that starting a gun battle in a police station would cause the death of the officers involved. Defendant also acted knowingly, and therefore his malicious actions were enough to hold him criminally liable for Captain Gray’s death.


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