Tuesday, June 26, 2001
Conviction for Aiding and Abetting Murder May Stand When Primary Conviction Falls, S.C. Rules
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A defendant may be convicted of murder as an aider and abettor even if his accomplice is convicted of a lesser crime, the state Supreme Court ruled yesterday.
In reversing a ruling of the Third District Court of Appeal, the high court ruled that Derrick Lakey’s first degree murder conviction could stand even though the fatal shots were fired not by him, but by Ejaan Dupree McCoy whose murder conviction was overturned.
Both were riding in a car in Stockon in 1995 when McCoy, the driver, shouted something toward a group of people standing on a street corner. He was answered with a hail of gunfire. Both McCoy and Lakey responded by pulling out handguns and firing shots of their own. One of the group was shot dead.
Evidence showed that McCoy fired the fatal shot.
McCoy testified at trial that he believed he had to shoot or would be shot himself. Both he and Lakey were found guilty of first-degree murder, but the Court of Appeal reversed McCoy’s conviction, saying the trial judge prejudicially misinstructed the jury on McCoy’s theory of unreasonable self-defense.
Had the jury accepted the properly presented theory, McCoy’s crime would have been reduced to voluntary manslaughter.
The appeals court also reversed Lakey’s conviction, given its contention that California law prevents conviction of an aider and abettor of a crime greater than the one pinned on the person who was aided and abetted.
But Justice Ming Chin said Lakey’s murder conviction should change, even though he didn’t directly kill anyone. That’s because Lakey could have the proper mens rea for murder while McCoy did not.
The justice lifted from Shakespeare to illustrate the court’s reasoning. If Iago falsely told Othello that Othello’s wife, Desdemona, was cheating on him, Chin said, and Othello killed Desdemona in a fit of jealousy, Othello might escape conviction of murder because of evidence of his state of mind. But Iago had a different state of mind.
“Iago should be liable for his own acts as well as Othello’s which he induced and encouraged,” Chin said. “But Iago’s criminal liability, as Othello’s, would be based on his own personal mens rea. If, as our hypothetical suggests, Iago acted without malice, he would be guilty of murder even if Othello, who did the actual killing, was not.”
Whether or not McCoy killed in unreasonable self-defense, “thus negating what would otherwise be malice to him, McCoy’s unreasonable self-defense would not negate the implicit jury finding that Lakey knowingly and intentionally helped McCoy commit the crime, which constitutes malice, Chin said.
The case is People v. McCoy, S087893.
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company