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People v. Russel

    Citation

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    Bloomberg Law

    Brief Fact Summary. Three Defendants, Russel and two others (Defendants), who engaged in outdoor gun battle that resulted in the death of a passer-by, were all charged with murdering that individual, despite the fact that only one of the Defendant’s had fired the bullet that hit the passer-by.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Three defendants may be charged for the murder committed by only one of them where there is evidence that each defendant “intentionally aided” the defendant who actually fired the fatal bullet.

    Facts. A school principal walking through the grounds of a housing project was fatally struck by a stray bullet from a gun battle that the Defendants were engaged in at the time. Ballistics experts were unable to identify, which gun fired the fatal bullet so prosecutors charged all three Defendants with depraved indifference murder.

    Issue. Are all three Defendants liable for depraved indifference murder if only one of the Defendants can have fired the fatal bullet at the school principal?

    Held. Yes. Judgments affirmed.
    The state was not required to prove which Defendant fired the bullet that killed the school principal, where the evidence sufficiently established that each Defendant acted with the mental culpability requisite for depraved indifference murder and that each Defendant “intentionally aided” the Defendant who actually fired the fatal bullet. The fact that Defendants were opponents in an adversarial gun battle does not undermine the “community of purpose” they shared in mutually engaging in a gun battle that resulted in the victim’s death.


    Discussion. This case is of interest insomuch as it illustrates how actors in an adversarial position toward each other can still be integrated in a common community of purpose for the sake of criminal liability. Though intending to kill each other, each assisted the other in creating a dangerous environment where anyone in the crossfire was likely to be killed. Thus, the three Defendants are at once sworn enemies and accomplices in a mutual crime.


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