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Specific Intent not Needed for Capital Murder


The death penalty is the most serious punishment you can receive for a crime.  It is reserved for the crimes that society views as most dangerous.  In a recent case that the Alabama Supreme Court decided, the Court had to determine whether a defendant should receive the death penalty for murdering his wife and her unborn child.

In the case of Ex Parte Phillips from Marshall County, Alabama, the defendant was convicted of murder of “two or more persons” for the intentional killing of his wife and the unborn child.  Under Alabama law, this is a capital offense, which means you can be sentenced to death.  The defendant appealed his conviction based on several arguments. 

His first argument was that the trial court improperly instructed the jury that he could be convicted of murdering two or more persons when he only had the specific intent to kill one person.  The Court held that all the State needed to show was that he intended to kill the wife and that the baby died as a result.  The State did not have to prove that he had the specific intent to kill the unborn baby.  Next, he argued that the unborn baby did not meet the definition of a “person” under the capital murder statute. 

However, the Court ruled that because an unborn child is a person under the intentional murder statute, and the capital murder statute incorporates the intentional murder statute, an unborn child is a “person” under the capital murder statute.  Third, he argued that the trial court improperly “double counted” the murder.  The Supreme Court emphasized that an unborn child is a person who can be the victim of homicide, and that his death sentence was imposed because he killed two people in one act, not because he intentionally killed a pregnant woman.

The defendant also made some evidence arguments as well.  He argued that the wife’s pregnancy test should not be admitted into evidence because the State failed to establish the chain of custody.  The Court decided that any error in connection to this was harmless because all the evidence did was supplement other evidence in the record. 

He also argued that the autopsy photographs should not have been introduced because they were prejudicial and inflammatory.  The Court pointed out that the photographs were used to assist in showing that the wife was in fact pregnant at the time and these were ok to admit into evidence.  For those reasons, the Alabama Supreme Court upheld the conviction and death penalty sentence of the defendant.

As you can see, death penalty cases are very serious.  There are a lot of smaller issues in addition to the main issue that courts must consider in deciding these types of cases.  This is why you should have an experienced defense lawyer working for you. 

You are entitled to a fair trial, and only an experienced criminal lawyer can ensure that all of the procedural rules are properly followed.  Joseph Ingram of INGRAM LAW LLC will work hard on your case.  If you are in need of a criminal defense attorney, call him today at (205) 335-2640.

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