Civil Liberties

How to Get Charged With Murder Without Harming Anyone

An old man shoots a female robber in the back. Her accomplice gets arrested for murder. What?



Yesterday's headlines proclaimed that a possibly-pregnant woman had been shot and killed in California by an 80-year-old man whose house she was attempting to rob. Now Andrea Miller's co-burglar, Gus Adams, has been arrested on murder charges for her death.   

Upon reading this, my mind immediately went to Elaborate Plot territory: Was it actually Adams and the homeowner who were accomplices? Was the burglary merely a ruse to justify Miller's shooting? Is Los Angeles just one big Raymond Chandler novel after all? 

Alas, no. Adams was charged with murder under a california statute that holds accomplices accountable should partners in crime be killed on the job. Adams, who now faces a potential murder charge in addition to robbery chargers, is being held on more than $1 million bail.

It certainly seems like Adams deserves to be charged with robbery, and possibly assault—Long Beach police say Adams and Miller beat the elderly homeowner, Tom Greer, with their fists and body slammed him to the ground after he walked in on them mid-act. But murder? When Greer freely admits to chasing Miller and Adams into a back alley and shooting Miller in the back? 

It's not uncommon for the state to use this practice to ratchet up penalties for those already facing robbery charges. Earlier this week, a California teen was charged with three counts of murder in conjunction with a bank robbery where one hostage and his two alleged accomplices were killed. The young man could now be eligible for the death penalty. In a 2007 case, three young men broke into a home where the homeowner shot two of them to death. The surviving man was charged with their murders (though he was eventually acquitted by a jury). 

States across the country—Oklahoma, Massachusetts, Indiana, to name a few—have and enforce similar laws allowing for accomplice murder charges. In Arizona recently, a husband and wife team who attempted to rob a medical marijuana dispensary were charged with second-degree murder after their accomplice was killed. Under Arizona's "felony murder rule," someone who commits a felony that results in a death can be charged with murder even if they didn't kill anyone personally.

A few more recent cases: 

  • In June, two Southern Ohio men broke into a home. The resident stabbed one of the young intruders in self-defense. The other intruder was arrested on felony murder charges
  • Also in June, a 22-year-old West Virginia woman was arrested for murder after an alleged robbery co-conspirator wound up dead.
  • In May, a 16-year-old Texas boy was arrested on murder charges after a friend was killed in the course of their attempted smoke-shop robbery. 
  • In April, a 15-year-old who took part in a carjacking was charged with murder after his accomplice was shot and killed by the victim. 
  • Also in April, two Massachusetts teens attempted to rob a man who wound up fatally shooting one of them. The other was charged with his friend's murder.