Old legal ruling affects murder law in Louisiana
At least two people arrested and accused of murder this year were not charged with the crime because of the way Louisiana’s felony murder statute is written.
A grand jury in May declined to indict two Baton Rouge men on second-degree murder charges in a Jan. 14 botched drug deal-turned-armed robbery that resulted in the death of one of the men’s relatives.
The panel chose not to indict Marcus Heard, 40, or Jermaine Clark, 29, in the death of Robert Heard, 26.
East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III said Robert Heard was with Marcus Heard and Clark when all three men tried to rob another man, John Freeman.
Police have said Freeman, 26, was expecting to buy drugs from the trio at his Gerald Drive apartment.
Freeman shot at his attackers, as did a 16-year-old boy who witnessed the robbery, police said.
Robert Heard was killed in the gunfire, police said. Clark suffered a gunshot wound to the head, but survived.
Police called Heard’s death a justifiable homicide, saying Freeman and the teen fired in self-defense.
Moore said Marcus Heard, Clark and Freeman should be held criminally responsible for the death of Robert Heard but state law won’t allow it “because of the intervening, justifiable act’’ of the teen acting in defense of others.
That would not have been the case if Marcus Heard, Clark or Freeman had fired the weapon that caused the death of Robert Heard, Moore said.
“When none of the participants of a crime are involved in a killing, they can’t be charged,” Moore said. “That’s how the Supreme Court has interpreted felony murder.”
The Louisiana Supreme Court made such a distinction 53 years ago when it reversed a defendant’s conviction of manslaughter, holding that the manslaughter statute did not make the defendant responsible for a self-defense killing committed by the victim.
The court indicated the killer must be the defendant or a principal with the defendant in the perpetration of an underlying felony.
The court also called on the Legislature to amend the term “offender” in the state’s felony murder statue to “person” so a defendant or principal with the defendant can be prosecuted for the actions of a victim or a bystander not connected with the underlying crime.
The statute has yet to be changed and could therefore still affect the fate of accused murderers across the state.
One of those cases involves a man authorities claim is responsible for the death of his accomplice during a botched armed robbery in Baton Rouge in March.
Ahmad Beauchamp, 22, and his accomplice, Kelvin Armstead, 23, tried to rob a 30-year-old man at gunpoint while he sat in his parked car at 4329 Choctaw Drive, an arrest warrant says.
Armstead opened the passenger side door without the driver’s permission and got in, the warrant says. Beauchamp grabbed a gun from another car, approached the car Armstead was in, pointed the gun at the driver and demanded money, the warrant says.
To avoid the robbery, the 30-year-old man backed his car straight into oncoming traffic, hitting several other vehicles and causing Armstead to be ejected from the car, the warrant says. Armstead died from injuries he suffered in the crash. Beauchamp was booked with second-degree murder.
Time will tell whether that accusation holds up in court.
Kimberly Vetter covers crime in East Baton Rouge Parish. She can be reached at email@example.com.