Calling all lawyers - what is murder?

Discussion in 'Community Discussion' started by madoka, Oct 27, 2008.

  1. madoka macrumors 6502


    Jul 17, 2002
    I thought I knew, but this criminal defense lawyer has thrown me for a loop as I can't see why he believes his client did not commit murder:

    3 Gang Members Found Guilty In Restaurant Murder
    RIVERSIDE Three Corona-area gang members were convicted Monday of beating a 19-year-old man to death outside a fast-food restaurant in an ttack triggered by the victim's perceived loyalty to a rival group.

    After deliberating all of Friday and most of this morning, a six-man, six-woman jury found Travis Daniel Westly, 26, Richard James Dugan, 27, and Jonathan Richard Morgan, 24, guilty of second-degree murder and entence-enhancing gang allegations for the June 23, 2006, fatal assault of Sean Thomas Gardhouse.

    The defendants, scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 12, face 25 years to life
    in prison.

    "My son, Sean, is smiling down from Heaven right now," the victim's mother, Laura Gardhouse, said through tears. "He was my only son. My baby."

    She praised the detectives, witnesses and prosecutors involved in the case as "heroes."

    "It would not have happened without them," she said. "This verdict sends a message to the whole community that we're not going to stand for this violence.... I believe my son's death helped save somebody else's life."

    On the night he was attacked, Gardhouse and a friend had gone to a Jack
    in the Box in the 1100 block of Ontario Avenue in Corona to meet the victim's girlfriend.

    Earlier that evening, Morgan and a friend of the defendants, Victor Sanchez, had a hostile exchange in the restaurant parking area with members of a group of Corona youths calling themselves the SoCal Riders, or SCR.

    Because Morgan and Sanchez were outnumbered, they backed out of the confrontation, according to Riverside County Deputy District Attorney John Aki.

    He said Morgan, who is a member of an Inland-area gang known as the El Cerrito Boys, or ECB, sought help from Westly and Dugan, members of Friends Stand United, or FSU, a nationally affiliated gang into hard rock and casual fistfighting.

    According to Aki, around 15 ECB and FSU members converged on the Jack in the Box, but by that time "the threat was gone," because no SCR members remained.

    But the defendants were keyed up, spoiling for a fight, Aki said.

    According to trial testimony, Gardhouse had just parked his Chevy Silverado pickup outside the Jack in the Box and was chatting with friends when a group of about 10 young men, led by Sanchez, walked from the restaurant to Gardhouse's truck, calling the victim over to talk.

    According to Gardhouse's close friend, Robert "Robby" Lucero, who was
    sitting in the truck, Sanchez asked Gardhouse why he was associating with certain people, and Gardhouse denied any such association.

    Lucero said just as his friend finished answering, a man identified by the prosecution as Dugan stepped forward, shouted "Send this message to SCR!" and punched Gardhouse in the mouth.

    Lucero said when he tried to come to his friend's aid, Morgan attacked him.

    Gardhouse retreated to the front of the Jack in the Box, but could not get in because an employee, fearing the assailants would continue their attack in the eatery, had locked the doors.

    In his closing argument Thursday, Aki characterized the defendants as cowards "who could not muster the courage to stand alone."

    "As a group they went to beat Sean Gardhouse, and as a group they should be found guilty," the prosecutor said.

    He said the FSU and ECB members were screaming and posturing, literally paralyzing patrons inside and outside the Jack in the Box with fear.

    Westly confronted the victim at the doors of the restaurant, and according to Aki, the defendant threw a punch so hard it "fractured Sean's temporal bone, probably rendering him unconscious."

    Westly testified Wednesday that Gardhouse, whom he had never met, "wasn't putting his guard up" when the two men encountered one another near the entrance of the Jack in the Box.

    The defendant said he struck Gardhouse on the left side of his face and the young man's "body spun somewhat sideways" from the blow, at which point Westly hit him again.

    Gardhouse collapsed onto the concrete sidewalk, striking his head and suffering severe blunt force trauma, according to the prosecution. He lingered in a coma nearly a week before dying.

    "Corona is going to be safer after this," Gardhouse's father, Gary, said after the verdict. "The jury saw it like it should have been seen."

    He sported a tattoo on his shoulder that bears his son's name and the symbol for Chevrolet -- an homage to the 19-year-old and the pickup truck he loved and waited years to purchase.

    Gardhouse's sister, Kelly, 25, said as many as 20 of her brother's friends have the same tattoo.

    "He was a great person," said Guillermo Altamirano, who knew Gardhouse from the beginning of their sophomore year in high school. "He was a ray of light. He could always make you laugh -- no matter what."

    Guillermo produced a 13-minute video tribute to Gardhouse that is posted on According to the victim's family, Gardhouse had just begun working as an apprentice machinist in Yorba Linda when he was killed.

    Some two dozen of the defendants' family members were in court for the reading of the verdicts. The defendants showed little reaction. Dugan and
    Morgan mostly stared straight ahead, while Westly hung his head down and tilted to the right, away from jurors.

    "We're extremely disappointed they returned verdicts of murder," said Steve Harmon, Dugan's attorney, outside court. "The verdicts are wrong. There was no murder here under any circumstance, not even for Travis Westly."

    Harmon said the gang allegations were "not proved beyond a reasonable doubt."

    All of the attorneys described the groups their clients ran with as loose associations of young men with no interest in committing organized acts of violence, unlike the Crips, Mexican Mafia and other notorious criminal enterprises.

    Harmon said the actions of Westly, Morgan and his client met the legal definition of involuntary manslaughter -- at the most -- but really qualified as simple battery.

    "Mr. Dugan's family is very sad," the attorney said. "But they love and support their son 100 percent."

    Harmon said he intends to file a motion for a new trial, arguing that no evidence exists that his client committed a murder.
  2. JNB macrumors 604


    Oct 7, 2004
    In a Hell predominately of my own making
    It differs from state to state somewhat, but the "unlawful taking of a human life" would generally be classified as either murder or manslaughter (or both may be lumped under the "homicide" umbrella). The former typically requires certain circumstances or demonstrated prior intent or planning, while the latter is more of a sudden, unplanned or intended event, and each has varying degrees of severity.

    This is a gross generalization, of course, but I think that what the defense attorney may have been implying is that this was more rightly a manslaughter charge and not murder, within specific legal definitions.

    Or, he could just be a clueless shyster.
  3. ucfgrad93 macrumors P6


    Aug 17, 2007
    2nd degree murder sounds right to me, possibly manslaughter as well.
  4. Abstract macrumors Penryn


    Dec 27, 2002
    Location Location Location
    If you're asking for a legal definition, then I don't know.

    However, the legal definition of something doesn't always fit with common sense. To me, this is clearly murder. The victim is dead.
  5. Iscariot macrumors 68030


    Aug 16, 2007
  6. madoka thread starter macrumors 6502


    Jul 17, 2002
    The thing I don't get is that the victim was beat to death, which in my mind equals murder. I just don't see why his attorney claims it's involuntary manslaughter at worst. How he could ever justify simple battery seems pretty out there.
  7. ucfgrad93 macrumors P6


    Aug 17, 2007
    By reading the story, it seems to me that the cause of death may have been when the victim hit his head on the concrete when he fell. Generally speaking, two punches isn't enough to kill someone. I agree in that this should not be a case of simple battery, but I can see where the defense lawyer would argue involuntary manslaughter.
  8. Abstract macrumors Penryn


    Dec 27, 2002
    Location Location Location
    "The defendant was just standing outside the restaurant, punching angrily as usual, when the victim walked in front of him and....."
  9. 63dot macrumors 603


    Jun 12, 2006
    Murder is the intentional and unlawful killing of another person with malice aforethought.

    Malice aforethought is an intent to kill, with an intent to cause serious bodily harm, and exhibit extreme recklessness.

    That's one official legal definition.

    Murder can be in degrees, 1st or 2nd. And if not murder, it can be manslaughter, with degrees in a descending manner. Manslaughter can also be unintentional. Manslaughter can also, but rarely, be a misdemeanor.

    Many definitions here, and shades of grey.

    While murder is a crime, there are six known defenses which are duress, entrapment, McNaughton rule, self-defense, defense of others, and defense of property.

    However, in civil law, there is no defense for deadly force for property, which can lead to death or grave bodily harm.

    More confusion, but I hope this helps cover all sides.
  10. CA-JD macrumors newbie

    Oct 28, 2008
    Here is the relevant text of the applicable murder statute in California:

    187. (a) Murder is the unlawful killing of a human being, or a
    fetus, with malice aforethought.

    188. Such malice may be express or implied. It is express when
    there is manifested a deliberate intention unlawfully to take away
    the life of a fellow creature. It is implied, when no considerable
    provocation appears, or when the circumstances attending the killing
    show an abandoned and malignant heart
    When it is shown that the killing resulted from the intentional
    doing of an act with
    express or implied malice as defined above, no other mental state need be shown to establish the mental state of
    malice aforethought. Neither an awareness of the obligation to act
    within the general body of laws regulating society nor acting despite
    such awareness is included within the definition of malice.

    Here is the manslaughter text:

    192. Manslaughter is the unlawful killing of a human being without
    malice. It is of three kinds:
    (a) Voluntary--upon a sudden quarrel or heat of passion.
    (b) Involuntary--in the commission of an unlawful act, not
    amounting to felony; or in the commission of a lawful act which might
    produce death, in an unlawful manner, or without due caution and
    circumspection. This subdivision shall not apply to acts committed in
    the driving of a vehicle.
    "Gross negligence," as used in this section, shall not be
    construed as prohibiting or precluding a charge of murder under
    Section 188 upon facts exhibiting wantonness and a conscious
    disregard for life to support a finding of implied malice, or upon
    facts showing malice, consistent with the holding of the California
    Supreme Court in People v. Watson, 30 Cal. 3d 290.

    This case involved two gangs with a long history of physically attacking innocent victims, frequently sending the victims to the hospital with serious injuries. The defendants who were convicted here attacked Mr. Gardhouse intentionally, with the desired result being to seriously harm him, hoping that the attack would send a message to SCR, the rival group that they incorrectly assumed Mr. Gardhouse affiliated with in some way. All witnesses, including the convicted defendant Travis Westly, testified that there was no provocation and that the attack on Gardhouse was not justified. If such an unprovoked attack designed to seriously harm the victim doesn't show an abandoned or malignant heart, what does?

    The law in California for second degree murder does not require that the defendants intended to kill. Malice can be implied by the circumstances. This is a clear case of implied malice.

    The criminal defendants intended to seriously harm Mr. Gardhouse, and as a result of the attack, he died. Mr. Gardhouse's family has to live with the result of the intentional attack for the rest of their lives. It is only fair that the criminals who caused this to happen also must live with the consequences of the result. The circumstances of the attack simply don't fit the criteria for involuntary manslaughter. The idea that this was a misdemeanor assault or batter is a joke unworthy of discussion.
  11. 63dot macrumors 603


    Jun 12, 2006
    Bingo, it's the first thing you learn in law school from day 1. I was just reading about the common sense of what people think vs. what the law may be. A good defense could counter these charges pretty much the same way Nixon believed he could counter Watergate.

    Criminal law is interesting in that the standard of proof has to be beyond a reasonable doubt (BRD) which is far more than a preponderance of the evidence used in civil trials. We weren't in the courtroom hearing both sides so from the information from OPs post, one cannot determine anything BRD.

    It could look like murder, or mostly like it, but every member of the jury has to be convinced BRD.

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