Vail Daily column: The felony murder rule |

Vail Daily column: The felony murder rule

Rohn K. RobbinsVail LawVail, CO Colorado

Say you’re in the middle of nowhere. Say Blanchard, Okla. Say its New Year’s Eve and you’re a teen mother, home alone with your 3-month-old baby.Your husband was cruelly taken from you a week ago with cancer; Christmas time. The lights are still a-twinkle on your modest tree. Your baby is in your lap and you’re numbly watching TV. Twenty-two feet away from where you’re sitting is the front door to your lonely trailer.Suddenly, it starts.A shadow passes by the window, then another. A knock comes at the tinny door. Who the hell, you’re thinking, would be knocking at your door this time of night? The dog begins to bark and then, inexplicably, begins to whimper. He tucks his tail between his legs and crawls behind the couch. You have never, ever felt quite so alone.You try to summon up your voice and ask who’s knocking at your door but before you can, the knocking becomes wild and impatient. It swells quickly from anxious to insistent. Someone is banging on the door with both fists. You settle your baby on the couch and tip toe to the door. Looking through the peephole, the sight through it is terrifying. Two men – big scruffy men with hungry looks, men you have never seen before – are banging on your door. One of them has a huge knife in his fist.You shush the baby as you back away.Your husband’s 12-gauge is in the closet. The Smith & Wesson M&P. 357 is in the night stand. The 12-gauge hasn’t been used in years. You’re not sure it will work.You pick up the cordless and dial 911.”What’s your emergency?” an infuriatingly calm voice asks.”I’m home alone with my baby. Two men are trying to break in.”They have picked up something heavy and are battering the door.You whisper, “Send someone. Now. Please!”You know it will be awhile. You are nowhere near anything. The door will not hold for long.You put the baby on your bed and pick up the guns. You cradle the telephone between your shoulder and your ear, square up in the doorframe to the bedroom, and point the shotgun and the pistol at the door. Your hands are shaking. You wonder, “Can I do this?”You say, more bravely than you fell, “”I’ve got two guns in my hand. Is it OK to shoot if they come in this door?” The dispatch operator answers, “”Well, you have to do whatever you can do to protect yourself. I can’t tell you that you can do that, but you have to do what you have to do to protect your baby.””Hurry, please,” you say.Time becomes molasses. The baby’s squealing on the bed.”What do they want?” you ask yourself over and over again. You can’t stop thinking about the knife. How big it is. How hungry these strangers look.The door will not hold long.Ten minutes disappears. Then twenty. You are straining to make out approaching sirens but none have come.At twenty-one minutes, the door begins to splinter. You inhale and hold your breath.He is grinning with the knife out in front of him as he comes through the broken door. You say, “Oh, God,” then squeeze the trigger.He jumps back as a fist-size bloody stain opens on his chest. He looks bewildered as he tumbles back against a wall then sinks down it in slow motion. Soon, he’s lifeless, sitting with his legs splayed wide on your carpet, his chin against his ruined chest.The second man runs off.At last the sirens begin to grow.So, what crime has been committed here? The lady or the tiger?Well, actually, the tiger.In Oklahoma, as in Colorado, the law allows the use of deadly force against intruders. The lady acted in self-defense. As Dirty Harry coined it, “Make my day.”What about the tiger, then, presuming the tiger here is the second guy who never made it through the door and was not the one brandishing the knife?That’s where the felony murder rule comes in. The rule provides that where one is engaged in the commission of a felony and a death results – even if the person ultimately killed is your partner in crime – you’re subject to prosecution for the killing. Generally, an intent to kill isn’t necessary to be charged with felony-murder. The rule becomes operative so long as there is some causal connection between the felony and the killing.Poetic, no?By the way, the facts are true.This time, the good guys won.Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley. His practice areas include business and commercial transactions, real estate and development, homeowners’ associations, family law and divorce and civil litigation. He may be heard on Wednesdays at 7 p.m. on KZYR radio (97.7 FM) and seen on ECOTV 18 as host of “Community Focus.” Robbins may be reached at 970-926-4461 or at his email address,

Support Local Journalism

Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.

User Legend: iconModerator iconTrusted User