Murder or Manslaughter? Our Investigation Saves Client's Life in Capital Criminal Defense Case

Summary:

In this case in San Jose, CA, the District Attorney planned to charge our client with two counts of first-degree murder. After a verbal altercation with two Samoan men, our client shot and killed them both with a high-powered rifle. Our investigation helped the defense attorney make a reasonable argument for two second-degree murder charges rather than first degree. He was successful and the client pled guilty to those charges.

The Story:

The case was the result of a chance encounter between the two Samoans and our client. The defendant was walking home in the late afternoon in a neighborhood on the east side of town. As he walked past a church, a number of people were outside providing volunteer painting and yard work for the church. Our client got into a heated argument with the two men. Name-calling ensued and our client felt afraid for his life. He ran to his house, approximately one block from the church, ran into his bedroom and took a rifle kept under his bed in a box from its container. While running back to the church to "head off" his verbal assailants, he inserted a cartridge into the rifle and cocked it. When he arrived at the church, he opened fire on the two men, hitting and killing one of them instantly. The other man died later at the hospital.

 

The District Attorney contended that the time it took for the defendant to "walk" home and obtain the gun was sufficient time for him to have cooled off, and that the same time was sufficient to disprove the claim that he killed the men "in the heat of the moment". The DA claimed the defendant took five or six minutes to get home, get the gun and walk back to the church where he shot the men. This five or six minute scenario was sufficient in the DA's opinion to consider this as a murder committed with premeditation and planning, thus qualifying it for a charge of first-degree murder.

 

In the course of investigating the case, however, our investigators ran the route the defendant would have followed several times. We ran rather than walked because the defendant asserted that he ran to and from his house and we found independent witnesses who corroborated that. The average time that we came up with was one minute and thirty seconds, far shorter than the five or six minutes that the DA was asserting. Based on this disparity in the time between the argument and the shootings, the DA, in an agreement with the defense attorney, reduced the charges to second-degree murder, and the defendant pled guilty.

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