What Qualifies as “Felony Murder” in Texas?

April 2nd, 2019 by Tad Nelson in Criminal Defense

Murder normally refers to the crime of intentionally killing someone. But Texas also recognizes the criminal offense of “felony murder,” which broadly refers to an unintended murder committed “in the course of a felony.” In other words, if you intentionally commit a felony other than murder and accidentally kill someone, the state can prosecute that death as felony murder.

Houston Court Upholds Felony Murder Conviction Following Attempted Robbery-Turned-Shooting

Felony murder does require the state to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant intended to commit the underlying felony.

Here is an illustration of what this means. This is taken from a recent decision by the Texas First District Court of Appeals here in Houston, Bui v. State. This case involves a defendant convicted of felony murder arising from a robbery.

According to the First District’s opinion, the defendant entered a café in Houston and ordered a coffee from the owner, who was working behind the counter. There were only a handful of people in the café at the time, including a friend of the defendant.

After staying the café for 10-15 minutes, the defendant “produced a handgun and ordered” two patrons in the café to “get down.” The café owner then “drew a firearm and exchanged gunfire” with the defendant. During this exchange, the defendant shot and killed the café owner.

Prosecutors eventually charged the defendant with capital murder, alleging the defendant killed the victim “while in the course of committing and attempting to commit the robbery” of the victim. The trial court instructed the jury on both capital murder and felony murder, the latter as a lesser-included offense. The jury opted to convict the defendant on the felony murder charge, sentencing him to life in prison.

On appeal, the defendant argued there was “insufficient evidence of his intent to rob ” the café owner, a necessary element of felony robbery, and thus felony murder. The First District rejected this argument. Essentially, the defendant’s argument relied on the lack of proof he specifically intended to steal from the café owner–as opposed to stealing “from someone” at the café.

In support of his position, the defendant pointed to the fact he never interacted directly with the victim (aside from the coffee purchase) prior to the victim initiating the exchange of gunfire. Nor did any witness testify the defendant “verbally demand money or property.” Nor did the defendant “actually steal anything,” as he fled the scene immediately after the shooting.

But the appeals court said the jury could “reasonably infer” based on the defendant’s actions–entering the café, producing a handgun, and telling patrons to “get down”–that he and his accomplice intended to commit robbery. The jury could further infer, even without direct evidence, that the café owner would have been one of the targets of said robbery. Indeed, there was no evidence presented that the defendant was specifically targeting anyone else in the café, say to settle a “personal conflict.”

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If you are facing any type of felony charge in Texas, your life and liberty is at serious risk. Your best chance for a favorable resolution is to work with an experienced Galveston and League City criminal defense attorney. Contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates if you need legal advice or call (281) 280-0100  for assistance today.

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