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There are different kinds of murder

Rohn Robbins
Vail, CO, Colorado

TV is full of murder. Generally premeditated, the lying in wait, poised like a cat, can’t wait to take him out kind of murder. Murder with intent and a knowing mind. But are all murders alike? Not exactly.

The first Denver murders of 2008 were another kind of murder, that the suspect in these deaths may be charged with murder by “extreme-indifference.” The reported facts are these: At the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Day, the suspect decided to ring in the new year by discharging a high-powered rifle in a residential area. The suspect didn’t have the sense to shoot the darn thing straight up in the air where the statistical chance that it would find a human target when its arc turned down was slight. Instead, he apparently decided to usher in the new year by taking aim on a streetlight, which he missed. The bullet traveled across the street, through the siding of a neighbor’s home, stuck a 47-year-old mother in the head, then passed through her, striking an 11-year-old girl, killing both. Happy new year.

Murder vs. manslaughter

To understand “extreme indifference” murder (described in some states as “depraved indifference” murder), you must first understand the difference between murder and manslaughter.

“Murder” is killing another person with “malice aforethought,” which, in turn, means a predetermination to commit the act without justification or excuse. In other words, you meant to do it, and you were not acting in self-defense or defense of another.

“Manslaughter” is killing without malice. To be sure, someone died and at your hands, but the killing was committed without deliberation. Manslaughter may be “voluntary” or “involuntary.” In “voluntary” manslaughter, the act is committed in the heat of passion where, for example, there is a sudden quarrel and a fight ensues, resulting in a death. “Involuntary” manslaughter is causing a death recklessly but without the intention to do harm.

Although the yahoo with the gun in Denver did not, apparently intend to kill anyone, this crime may be considered to be so wanton and devoid of regard for human life that it can be reasonably equated with an intent to kill. In this instance, shooting a high-powered rife into a densely populated residential neighborhood may be said to amount to depraved or extreme indifference to human life, specifically, the lives of his victims.

As such, it may be charged as murder. In Colorado, conviction for extreme indifference murder is punishable by an automatic life sentence.

‘Felony murder’

Then there’s “felony murder.” The most prominent recent case of this type was that of Lisl Auman. If you recall the name, but not the facts, they go like this:

Lisl Auman lived with her boyfriend in Pine, Colorado. The couple had difficult times, and Auman decided to move out. When Auman decided to get her things from the room she had shared with her boyfriend, a high school friend suggested that her boyfriend, Dion Gerze, go with she and Auman. Gerze brought along two friends, including Matthaeus Jaehnig.

Auman did not previously know either man. Although there remains confusion over whether Auman knew, consented, or even participated, there is no doubt that, in addition to retrieving her belongings, a burglary was committed and some of the boyfriend’s things were taken.

A report of a burglary in progress led to a high speed police chase and shots were exchanged. When the chase ended, Auman surrendered but Jaehnig took cover and continued exchanging shots with police. While Auman was handcuffed in the back seat of a police cruiser, Jaehnig shot and killed officer Bruce Vanderjagt, then took his own life. Auman was charged with the officer’s murder.

Auman was tried, convicted, and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. After eight years, however, her conviction was overturned on procedural grounds but, likely, too, because the case had become a cause celebre.

As part of a plea bargain before being re-tired, Auman was released on extended parole.

Notwithstanding the ultimate outcome, many of the facts of the Auman case are typical of application of the felony murder rule, which holds that where one’s conduct in the commission or attempted commission of a felony brings about the unintended death of another, each participant in the crime leading to the death is guilty of murder.

In some cases, the death may even be that of a co-participant in the crime itself.

While the dramatics of TV generally dictate stealth, intention, retribution, lust or gain, in real life, there are other ways to commit murder. “Extreme indifference” and “felony murder” are two where the law elevates the wrong and equates it to intent to kill.

Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the Bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley. He may be heard on Wednesday nights at 7 p.m. on KZYR radio (97.7 FM) as host of “Community Focus.” He may be reached at 926-4461 or by e-mail at robbins@colorado.net.


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