Capital Murder is a specific type of murder charge that involves deliberate and premeditated killing or the commission of another serious crime, such as robbery or rape, resulting in the death of another person. The term “capital” refers to the potential punishment of capital punishment, commonly known as the death penalty, which can be imposed upon conviction. Capital murder cases involve complex legal proceedings, rigorous evidentiary standards, and heightened scrutiny, making it essential to understand the elements and implications associated with this grave offense. In this article, we will delve into the concept of capital murder, its distinguishing features, potential penalties, and the legal considerations surrounding this serious criminal charge.
States that have Capital Murder:
- New Hampshire
Note: While there are only 6 states that have a ‘Capital Murder’ charge, this is in name only as there are 24 states that have the death penalty as a potential punishment.
What is the Difference Between Murder and Capital Murder
The key difference between murder and capital murder lies in the severity of the crime and the potential penalties involved. While murder refers to the unlawful killing of another person, capital murder specifically involves aggravating factors that make the crime more heinous or heftier in terms of punishment. These aggravating factors can vary by jurisdiction but commonly include circumstances such as premeditation, the intent to commit another serious offense (e.g., robbery, rape), the killing of a law enforcement officer, multiple victims, or the murder being committed for financial gain.
Capital murder is treated as a distinct and more severe offense due to these aggravating factors. Convictions for capital murder can lead to the imposition of the death penalty or life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, depending on the jurisdiction and its laws. The presence of aggravating factors typically elevates the seriousness of the crime, making capital murder cases subject to stricter legal standards and procedural safeguards.
Capital Murder Aggravating Factors
Capital murder, in the context of the United States, generally refers to a specific category of murder that involves certain aggravating factors. These factors can vary by jurisdiction, but commonly include:
- Victim being a police officer, firefighter, or public safety professional killed while on duty.
- Murder occurring during the commission of another violent felony, such as armed robbery or kidnapping (referred to as felony murder).
- Victim being subjected to torture, rape, or sexual assault, especially if the victim is a child.
- Murder of a child.
- Murder of a judge in retaliation.
- Multiple murders committed as part of a series of connected acts.
- Murder-for-hire situations.
- Acts of terrorism.
- Victim being targeted based on race, national origin, or other protected characteristics.
- Killing a witness to a crime.
It is important to note that these factors and their application may vary across jurisdictions.
Capital Murder Examples
Arthur Brown Jr. – Texas – Capital Murder
Arthur Brown Jr.’s crime unfolded on June 20, 1992, during a drug deal gone awry at a residence in Houston, Texas. Alongside Marion Dudley and Tony Dunson, Brown had visited the home of Jose and Rachel Tovar to purchase three kilograms of cocaine. However, they abruptly decided to rob the Tovars instead, resulting in a tragic turn of events. Inside the home, the trio bound and shot six individuals, leaving a devastating toll. By the time law enforcement arrived, Jose Tovar, Jessica Quiñones (who was seven months pregnant), and Frank Farias had lost their lives. Tragically, Audrey Brown, one of the survivors, later succumbed to her injuries, raising the total number of murder victims to four. The surviving witnesses identified Arthur Brown Jr., along with Marion Dudley and Tony Dunson, as the perpetrators of the horrific attack.
Brown’s journey through the legal system was marked by multiple failed appeals. Despite his attempts, a federal court rejected his appeal for funds to support a mitigation specialist in his clemency petition. In subsequent years, his requests for a new trial or sentencing phase were also denied. Finally, after exhausting all avenues of appeal, Brown faced the looming prospect of execution.
Efforts to obtain a death warrant for Brown faced legal challenges, causing delays and emotional strain for the victims’ families. The judge initially declined to sign the warrant in May 2022, prompting an appeal from the prosecution. However, on August 17, 2022, the same judge ultimately signed Brown’s execution warrant, setting the date for March 9, 2023.
Despite continued protests of innocence, Brown’s application for a stay of execution was denied by the U.S. Supreme Court on the day of his scheduled execution. He was executed as planned, using his final statement to maintain his innocence and assert that the state was wrongfully taking the life of an innocent man. The case of Arthur Brown Jr. stands as a somber reminder of the devastating consequences of his actions and the legal processes that followed.
Joe Nathan James Jr. – Alabama – Capital Murder
On August 15, 1994, a tragic event unfolded involving Joe Nathan James Jr. and Faith. Joe’s ex girlfriend Faith had been shopping with a friend and sought refuge at her friend’s apartment when they realized that James was following them. Faith, along with her friend and her friend’s children, attempted to barricade the door. James forcibly entered the apartment, and despite Faith’s attempts to calm the situation and protect the children, he shot at her multiple times as she tried to escape. Tragically, James fired additional shots at Faith after she had already fallen to the ground.
James faced trial for this heinous crime, and a jury in Jefferson County convicted him of capital murder in 1996. The jury recommended the death penalty, which the judge subsequently imposed. However, the conviction was overturned when the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that certain police reports were improperly admitted as evidence. James was retried in 1999 and again sentenced to death when jurors rejected defense claims that he was under emotional duress at the time of the shooting. While on death row, James converted to Islam.
In the final stages of his case, James filed several lawsuits in June and early July 2022, challenging various aspects of his execution and claiming violations of his rights. Among the lawsuits, he argued that he was not given the opportunity to choose execution by nitrogen hypoxia, an untested method, which he believed violated his right to equal protection under the 14th Amendment. However, his request for a delay was denied. James’ defense also emphasized that Faith’s family opposed his execution, with Faith’s daughters and brother publicly expressing forgiveness and requesting that his death sentence be commuted to life without parole.
James’ execution took place on July 28, 2022. Although scheduled for 6 p.m., he was not pronounced dead until 9 p.m. The Hall family, including Faith’s daughters, had planned to attend the execution in the hopes of hearing an apology from James before leaving. However, due to prison protocols, they were unable to exit the premises. Witnesses noted that James did not display conscious movement or open his eyes throughout the procedure. He did not offer any final words when asked. The circumstances surrounding James’ consciousness during the execution remain uncertain, as witnesses cannot confirm his awareness. It was reported that James was not sedated, according to Alabama Corrections Commissioner John Hamm. Additionally, a female journalist was reportedly denied entry into the witness room due to the length of her skirt during the execution procedure.
Kenneth Dewayne Williams– Arkansas – Capital Murder
On October 3, 1999, one month after being sentenced to life in prison for murder and kidnapping Kenneth Dewayne Williams committed a series of crimes that culminated in his conviction for capital murder. Less than a month after being sentenced to life in prison, Williams escaped by hiding inside a 500-gallon barrel of pig slop and fleeing in a truck. He subsequently sought refuge at the home of Cecil Boren, a farmer and retired prison warden. Williams stole a gun from Boren, fatally shot him multiple times, and proceeded to steal his belongings, including jewelry and additional firearms. After dressing in Boren’s clothes, Williams fled to Missouri.
The following day, Williams was involved in a high-speed chase in Missouri, reaching speeds of up to 120 miles per hour. The pursuit came to a tragic halt when Williams crashed into a vehicle, causing the death of 24-year-old Michael Greenwood, who was ejected from his vehicle. Williams attempted to escape on foot but was soon apprehended. Notably, Williams did not face prosecution for Greenwood’s death but was charged with the murder of Cecil Boren.
Williams was convicted of theft of property and capital murder, receiving a death sentence in August 2000. During his time on death row, Williams expressed remorse and found solace in his faith. However, he also admitted to another murder committed on the same day as Boren’s killing, involving the robbery and shooting of Jerrell Jenkins. In December 2005, Williams pleaded guilty to this additional capital murder charge and received a second life sentence.
As his execution approached, Williams wrote an article expressing remorse for his crimes and accepting responsibility for the consequences of his actions. On April 27, 2017, he was executed by lethal injection at the Cummins Unit in Arkansas, becoming the last of four men executed in the state that year. Prior to his execution, Williams extended his apologies to the families of his victims and acknowledged the pain and suffering he had caused. The execution drew attention when Kayla Greenwood, daughter of one of the victims, facilitated a meeting between Williams’ daughter and granddaughter, expressing forgiveness and opposing his execution.
- How Long is a Life Sentence? State by State Overview
- How Many Years for First Degree Murder?
- How Many Years for Second Degree Murder?
- Manslaughter Laws Explained: What is the difference between first, second, and third degree manslaughter?
- Murder Sentencing Guidelines – Minimum to Maximum for Every State
- What is 2nd Degree Murder?
- What is the difference between first-degree, second-degree, and third-degree murder?
- What is the Difference Between Murder, Homicide, and Manslaughter?