Most people, when they think of “murder,” think of an intentional killing. However, here in Maryland, that is only one of two kinds of second-degree murder the law recognizes. In addition to intentional murder, there’s also what the law calls “depraved-heart” murder, where you can be just as culpable (and face equally severe punishments,) even though you had no intent to kill anyone. Sometimes, though, prosecutors in this state will charge “depraved-heart” murder in cases where the facts or the law actually don’t add up to murder. As a defendant, getting justice means, even if you don’t get an acquittal on all charges, you defeat those alleged crimes that the state overcharged. To best protect yourself if you’ve been overcharged, you need representation from an experienced Maryland criminal defense lawyer.
A well-known recent second-degree murder case, which involved an eccentric millionaire and the house fire that killed the man who worked for him, is a good example of this issue of the state overcharging depraved heart murder.
D.B., a wealthy man in his 20s living in Bethesda, had a strong fear of a North Korean nuclear strike. To protect himself, he hired men to dig a series of tunnels and a bunker beneath his home.
The underground area was powered by a “daisy chain” of extension cords and power strips that linked back to power outlets inside the home. The home’s basement and the area beneath it looked like one of those “Hoarders” TV shows, with D.B. having filled them “with an extreme amount of debris, trash, and other objects that made navigation difficult.”
When an electrical fire broke out in the basement, that fire claimed the life of A.K., the man who was digging tunnels for D.B. at the time. A.K.’s death seemingly was quite unintentional. The Washingtonian described D.B., in the moments after firefighters extinguished the blaze, as “struggling against the restraints” of his ambulance stretcher and crying out, “He’s still in there!”
Two Necessary Pieces Required for ‘Depraved-Heart’ Murder
According to the state, it didn’t matter. The prosecution said that the bizarre conditions of A.K.’s work and workspace were so extreme that they represented a “reckless disregard for human life” that was “likely, if not certain, to cause death.” When that happens, it’s potentially second-degree murder in Maryland.
The Court of Special Appeals and the Court of Appeals, however, concluded that it didn’t add up. While D.B.’s actions clearly were enough to demonstrate the required first criterion of “reckless disregard,” it could not be said that his reckless disregard was likely, if not certain, to cause death. His behavior was reasonably likely, if not certain, to cause harm to A.K., but not death. As a result, what he did couldn’t constitute murder.
This case is not the only one of its kind and is not even the most famous recent one. Back in 2015, a police officer was charged with “depraved-heart” murder in the death of Freddie Gray, an arrested man who suffered fatal injuries while in police custody. The state’s case was that the officer gave Gray, who was shackled and handcuffed but not seat-belted, a “rough ride” in the police van that the defendant was driving, which caused Gray to suffer the injuries that led to his death. This, the prosecution asserted, represented reckless disregard for human life that was likely, if not certain, to cause death.
The jury was not persuaded that the officer’s actions met those two criteria and returned a verdict of not guilty.
There are reasons the prosecution might overcharge in a homicide case. One is when the death occurred in an especially outrageous manner. Especially outrageous does not necessarily equal a depraved heart, though. When it comes to facing the homicide charges against you, make sure you have the aggressive and skillful legal representation you need. Count on the experienced Maryland criminal defense attorneys at Anthony A. Fatemi, LLC. Contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form. Call us today to find out how we can help you.