Criminal Justice

Police Shot Her Boyfriend During a Robbery. She Was Charged With His Murder.

The felony murder rule allows police to charge someone with a killing if they were an accomplice in a related crime.

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On December 7 of last year, Julius Ervin Tate Jr. attempted to rob an undercover police officer who had responded to a social media ad posted by Tate in which he purported to be selling a cell phone. After a SWAT agent shot and killed him, police charged his 16-year-old girlfriend, Masonique Saunders, with felony murder.

What?

Under Ohio's felony murder rule, the state can charge individuals with murder if he or she participated in a tangential crime that led to the death in question. Saunders allegedly helped plan the botched robbery, giving authorities a way to prosecute her for his death.

The teen eventually took a plea deal and was sentenced last week to three years in juvenile prison for involuntary manslaughter as well as aggravated robbery. But although Saunders evaded a life sentence for murder, some people say the deal was still unjust, as she played no part in her then-boyfriend's actual demise.

They would be correct. Felony murder rules exist in several states across the country, locking up people who did not participate in the murder—or sometimes even the original crime.

For instance, consider the case of Ryan Holle, who in 2003 let his housemate borrow his car, which was then used to commit murder during a burglary gone wrong. Holle was 1.5 miles away from the scene of the crime but was convicted of felony murder the next year and sentenced to life in prison. His sentence was commuted to 25 years in 2015.

Or perhaps more similar to Saunders' is the case of Cedric Chatman, who was 17 years old when a police officer shot and killed him as he exited a car he had stolen. His two friends who participated in that robbery were charged with first-degree murder, although they were not present when the shooting occurred. Those charges were eventually dropped.

Then there's Bobby Garcia, who, in ninth grade, robbed a man for gas money as he traveled to North Hollywood, California. While he was waiting in the car, his accomplice stabbed someone, which Garcia spent 21 years in prison for, despite the fact that he did not know the killing had taken place until later. Garcia lobbied to change that law, and last year, the state passed serious restrictions on its enforcement.

Such changes have not yet made headway in Ohio, meaning Saunders stood little chance of evading blame for Tate's death. To make matters worse, the circumstances surrounding the robbery are murky: Police say that Tate pulled a gun on the officer, prompting the killing, but an eyewitness account disputes that. The family's lawyer alleges that police found the weapon after searching one of the homes.

In any case, the felony murder rule fails to curtail crime rates, according to a 2002 study by Anup Malani. If reducing crime is the goal, then states are falling flat—all while locking up people for crimes they did not commit.

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  1. I can kind of understand the idea that if you engage in a violent activity from which a death could be reasonably foreseen, I don’t understand the logic of applying that to the killing by authorities of a partner in that activity.

    1. But regardless, how could anyone in this situation be charged with murder?

      1. Well, if the perp didn’t have a gun like the popo claimed, then the cop who shot him could be charged with murder and… hahahahaha, sorry I’m laughing so hard that I can’t finish. (Like when I was with Winston’s mom)

      2. On December 7 of last year, Julius Ervin Tate Jr. attempted to rob an undercover police officer who had responded to a social media ad posted by Tate in which he purported to be selling a cell phone. After a SWAT agent shot and killed him, police charged his 16-year-old girlfriend, Masonique Saunders, with felony murder.

        From this it seems that Ms. Saunders has been charged with felony murder for her boyfriend having been killed by someone else.

    2. “if you engage in a violent activity from which a death could be reasonably foreseen”

      Except in most felony murder laws, there is no explicit requirement that the predicate felony be a violent one or that the death is foreseeable.

      B&E on a house the robber had assumed was unoccupied at the time of the robbery. Robber encounters and startles an old man. Robber flees without touching the old man who dies of a hear attack. This would qualify as felony murder in some states.

    3. Intent is for pussies.

      – Signed Ohio law makers

  2. That’s crazy – obviously her boyfriend was the main culprit here, the cops should have charged him with his own murder.

    1. If he hadn’t died they probably would have charged him with assault with a deadly weapon.

  3. Adjacent to homicide is homicide.

    1. Guilt by association.

      That person should only be charged as an accessory, and only if she had some active role.

      1. Helping set up the crime is an active role.

  4. I don’t get too worked up over these kind of murder charges generally. Play stupid games with stupid people, win stupid prizes.

    It does seem a bit rich calling it a murder when he was shot by a cop; but it was in commission of the same crime, so I’m not going to get too worked up over it and more than a bank robber waving a squirt gun who gets shot, or goes to prison for armed robbery.

    The others, just the usual: commit a crime which goes south, well, here’s your sign.

    The car lender seems fishy. Did the lender know his housemate was going to rob someone? Did he at least know his housemate was a burglar? Here’s your sign. Would be interesting to know more.

    Not getting worked up over the law itself.

    1. From the linked article in the linked article, the car lender says he didn’t take his roommate seriously “[b]ut Mr. Holle did testify that he had been told it might be necessary to “knock out” Jessica Snyder.”

    2. I’m not going to get too worked up over it and more than a bank robber waving a squirt gun who gets shot, or goes to prison for armed robbery.

      Oddly enough, there was an appeal of a sentence for armed robbery under such a scenario and the appeals court sided with the robber – the law was clear that an armed robber did in fact actually have to armed in order to be considered an armed robber and merely presenting yourself as an armed robber did not make one an armed robber. A case of prosecutorial overreach – the robber was clearly a robber but the prosecutor went for the “armed” enhancement and lost his gamble.

      1. IDK, if you tell someone you’re armed in order to rob them, I think that’s armed robbery.

      2. The standard has been, for a long time, that if you appear to be armed then you’re armed as far as the law is concerned.

        So if you tell someone you have a weapon

        Or if you’re holding a non-weapon that looks like a weapon

        A bright orange, transparent squirt gun could probably get you a pass, a bb-gun, not so much.

        1. So, in your opinion, Tamir Rice was a good shoot.

          Please turn down any jury sommonses.

          1. Was Tamir Rice in the process of robbing someone? I’m too lazy to look it up, but I think the kid was just playing on the side of the street with some toy guns.

          2. Except Tamir from what I remember didn’t try to hold up someone so the cases in question are different then the Rice case. If Tamir had walked up to a stranger with a BB gun and committed armed robbery first and the cops ended up killing him that would be justified (all things considered). But Tamir was just playing in a park and had a BB gun and the cops just pulled up and blasted the poor kid from what I recall.

    3. You’d get worked up if it was applied to you.

    4. Dude please never say “play stupid games win stupid prizes” again. It’s revolting.

      1. But it is accurate “dude”.

  5. It would make some degree of sense if she was involved with planning the robbery and the boyfriend killed the the victim. It does not really make sense if the boyfriend is killed in a botched robbery. However, involuntary manslaughter does seem appropriate, and this would be a case of overcharging to plea down to the charge the prosecutor really wants.

  6. This is why we don’t do armed robbery, kids. The armed part is dangerous

  7. I have no problem with the felony murder rule – if you voluntarily participate in the planning or commission of a crime, then you should be held just as responsible for the consequences as your accomplice(s). If someone dies as a result of the crime – including your accomplice – then you should be held legally responsible for the death.

    1. What is this communist insanity?

      1. It’s not communist. If you participate in an illegal action that gets someone killed, you share responsibility. Don’t wanna get charged? Don’t rob people.

        1. In a free society, you should be held accountable for you own actions. If you didn’t murder, you should not be charged for it. Period.

          “Don’t wanna get charged? Don’t rob people.””
          In this case, don’t rob people if you don’t want to be charged with robbing people. If someone is defending against you and kills you, then they should not be charged for killing you because it is self defense. But to charge you for the actions of someone else is ridiculous.

      2. It’s known as the “Libertarian Double Standard For Black People”. Gotta keep them Negroes in line…for freedom.

        1. Huh. I have no idea of the race of the people involved. So, what’s that make you? “The guy who looks at everything through the lens of race”, or what we used to just call a racist.

          1. No, it makes me “The gal who actually admits to RTFA”. And I don’t mean “Riding Tulpa’s Fat Aunt”, btw.

            1. That was pathetically stupid Tony.

          2. “I have no idea of the race of the people involved.”

            I thought the name Masonique was a pretty good clue.

        2. It was only a matter of time until EO revealed his racism.

  8. While commenters are not sympathetic to the girlfriend in this case, other cases can be more egregious. For example, someone borrows your car without permission or you are passed out in the back of a car when people start shooting or you go in the bodega with your friends and one of them suddenly decides to hold the place up. You had no knowledge a crime was about to take place, did not plan it, did not participate–still go to jail for 20 yrs.

    1. This is not true – all felony murder convictions require knowledge of the crime about to be committed.

      1. That clearly doesn’t prevent zealous prosecutors from insinuating preliminary knowledge of bystanders.

      2. So you think the girl knew the cop was going to kill that guy? Had they discussed this at some point?

    2. Those things are not felony murder according to the law.

      To rise to felony murder you have to at least be an accessory-before-the-fact or an outright accomplice.

  9. all while locking up people for crimes they did not commit.

    Couple things here.

    1. If you’re opposed to felony murder laws it would help if you actually put forth a rationale for opposing them. 85% of that article is just telling us the facts of the case. The last bit is just ‘felony murder bad’.

    2. That’s not how crimes work. Crimes are whatever the government says they are. So, if the government says ‘commit a felony in which some one dies and you are responsible for that death’ . . . that’s the crime. So yeah, she committed that crime.

    Its like drug use or prostitution. Neither of those should be crimes. But if you do them, no one – not even people opposed to criminalizing those activities, would say that you haven’t broken the law. We would say that you’ve not done anything wrong and that the law should be changed.

    1. Stated like a clearly legalist arse.

      Individual responsibility is something long gone, especially in felony murder like the above cases. Simply “being a crime” doesn’t make that fact moral or just.

      The cops shot a dude. That’s their action and no one else’s.

      A dude borrowed a car and acted poorly. That’s on him and no one else.

      Communal blame is no way to restore individual liberty and responsibility.

      1. You talk like an arse who doesn’t believe in personal responsibility. Oh, she didn’t pull the trigger so its so unfair – meanwhile she was robbing a dude who defended himself. Straight up created the situation that lead to the boyfriend’s death.

        And if you do something reckless – like rob someone – and someone dies as a result, should you not bear some responsibility? It is, after all, your actions that lead to that.

        1. Now, we don’t know what happened. Its entirely possible the core events are a lie and the cop murdered an innocent dude.

          But, if the events are as stated, then she bears some responsibility for that guy’s death.

          1. Yes, some responsibility. Not felony murder. Maybe reckless endangerment or another lower level crime.

          2. If the events are as stated, no murder occurred. As stated, the police shot him in self defense. Good shoot. Not murder.

            So I’m not sure who’s murder she is charged with.

            If the events are as stated by the defense – that the police shot an unarmed would-be thief, finding a gun later to attribute their actions to – then there was a murder committed. Or at least manslaughter. But don’t they need to charge the primary killer(s) in that event?

            Either way, this seems to be an odd result.

            1. Excellent point. To be felony murder, there should be a murder.

            2. Great point.

              A cop killing you in this situation, or pretty much any other, is not an act of murder. The murder charge is something they are pulling out of their ass because FYTW.

              1. “A cop killing you in this situation, or pretty much any other, is not an act of murder.”

                It gets worse, I don’t know if the situation has ever actually come up, but the way some states have worded their felony murder laws, robbing a convenience store and having a bystander die of a heart attack in the middle of the robbery could conceivably be charged as felony murder.

      2. So if I set up a criminal organization based on robbery and muder, all I need to do is have others do my dirty work for me and I should never be punished. That’s justice to you?

  10. I remain unmoved. Lock her up.

    1. Lots of statists out today. Is it yard day at the farm already?

  11. Yeah the whole “felony murder rule” is stupid. I don’t disagree necessarily with punishing accessories to a crime. But they are ACCESSORIES, not the main perpetrators. By no means should accessories be punished at the same level as the main perpetrators themselves.

    1. See MonsoonMoon? This is a half-way decent rationale. Not ignoring the accessory’s responsibility for their actions (which, remember, lead to a death) but acknowledging that they didn’t plan or instigate things and that that should be taken into consideration.

      1. Except in practice how this works is that the prosecutor needs the testimony of one of the principals to get to the accessory…. as in the case of the guy who loaned his roommate his car.

        So they cut the murderer a deal if he will plead guilty and testify against his roommate. Now the roommate is on the hook for murder, but he doesn’t have anyone to sell out to the cops, so he takes the worse hit.

        1. ^ yep. 2 arrests looks better than 1 when it comes to murder. Justice?

  12. I can kind of understand the idea that if you engage in a violent activity from which a death could be reasonably foreseen, I don’t understand the logic of applying that to the killing by authorities of a partner in that activity.
    Funny Shayari In Hindi

  13. Seems to me that a whole lot of speculation is necessary to come to any conclusion as to whether this young lady is guilty of a crime at all. The information from the police, as always, is suspect and this doesn’t feel right to me.

    Soooo, let me jump on this speculation train…

    Cops got a criminal report from a victim or tip from elsewhere and did a little investigating to find out what this dude was up to. They then set up a sting where they had 10-20 cops positioned to ambush the robbing piece of trash and were very much ready and hopeful that they would get the chance to kill him. One of em had the angle and took the shot. Over the next 24 hours they celebrated with drink and sexual favors but as it turned out the dude didn’t have a gun on him after all so they had to lie some more and make it look like he was armed to control the narrative.

    So every cop involved should be charged under the felony murder rule and the streets might become a little bit safer.

    I don’t have all the facts, admittedly, and I may be a touch biased.

  14. “If reducing crime is the goal, then states are falling flat—all while locking up people for crimes they did not commit.”

    By that standard, Charles Manson is serving life for crimes he did not commit…

    …by his own hand, at least.

    If someone has a group of minions to do the dirty work for them, they have culpability for the crimes committed from their schemes for their benefit? Does that really make sense?

    1. Ask a congressman – – – – – –

    2. And he’s no longer serving time.

    3. Ask the Clintons.

    4. “If someone has a group of minions to do the dirty work for them, they have culpability for the crimes committed from their schemes for their benefit? Does that really make sense?”

      In that situation, the proper response is conspiracy charges, not felony murder.

      Manson went to prison for life on conspiracy to commit murder, not on a felony murder charge.

  15. I still have questions about this, the article is very good, it helps me now run 3

  16. Just wait for the craziness that will accompany “red flag” laws.

    1. Right. The person who filed the false report on an ex-lover can get charged with murder when the poor schlub is killed because the cops took his gun and he couldn’t defend himself.
      Sounds the same as this hot mess.

      1. So the new SWATing.

        Or maybe worse, an easy way to lure cops in for their execution.

        Then again, depending on the exact law, also an easy way to get effective warrants. Cop can’t get a warrant? Ask someone to file a red flag restraining order and the cops get to waltz in without probable cause, plain viewing anything they want.

  17. Yes if you’re involved in a conspiracy and one of the conspirators murders someone you should be charged too. If someone kills a conspirator in self defense then no. There’s no murder.

    1. This. Unless she was conspiring with the cops, this charge makes no sense.

      1. Makes no sense?
        1. Covers up the cops’ bad shoot
        2. Kicks some poor shlub in the privates while he/she already down (remember, these assholes kill dogs for fun).
        3. Is an essy slam dunk for some asshole DA to pad his numbers, and ditto padding the numbers of every PO involved, as well as every task force, police department, and every level of government and elected officials.

  18. This is not a new law, or a new charge. I would think the intent is to keep people from participating in a stupid violent crime. I can’t tell you it works, but I get the idea.

    1. Except no murder exists. What does exist in these cases is justifiable homicide (cop shooting the suspect).

      To charge the suspect as if the suspect actually murdered seems a bit like charging someone under a hypothetical theory. Which should be rejected by any lover of liberty.

  19. In the case of Bobby Garcia, it seems that there were multiple failures. I’m not sure how sitting in the getaway car rises to the level of crime necessary to pierce the protections normally available to minors and charge (and convict) this kid as an adult.

    9th grade is really young to start charging someone as an adult. To do so on such an oblique charge seems to be a particular miscarriage of justice. We toss people in jail for a quarter century because they are particularly violent and the rest of us need protecting from them. I just don’t see how sitting in the getaway car as a 14 year old rises to that level. Heck, even if he knew his buddy was planning on killing someone, I’m not sure that demonstrates the kind of permanently warped mind that we are worried about when we allow juveniles to be charged as adults.

  20. This reminds me of a fact that England once would give you the death penalty if you were caught committing a crime with a firearm. The shocker is, your accomplices would also be given the same sentence. So criminals would frisk each other before committing a crime to ensure no one was carrying a firearm. This was in one of Thomas Sowell’s books.

  21. But there was no murder. It was a justified homicide. I don’t get it.

  22. Yet another reason for Jury Nullification, the judicial system may frown on it but it is exactly for these types of cases that the tradition exists.

    1. Jury nullification only works if there’s a trial. The whole point of charging her with felony murder was to get her to waive her right to a trial.

  23. I have no issue with this law if the person was the LEADER or actively involved in the crime being committed. For the guy who was sentenced to Life and then 25 years, that makes not sense. I think there must have been more going on that described in the article. Maybe he KNEW that the guy was using his car to commit a crime.

    1. “I have no issue with this law if the person was the LEADER or actively involved in the crime being committed.”

      Except that’s not how Felony Murder works. It could be the LEADER pulling the trigger to kill someone and all the peons following him go down for felony murder.

  24. “Police Shot Her Boyfriend During a Robbery. She Was Charged With His Murder. The felony murder rule allows police to charge someone with a killing if they were an accomplice in a related crime.”

    Isn’t living in a police state wonderful?
    Don’t you wish everyone could live there?

  25. Raise your hand if you expected the Republican Party’s First Responders™ to be held liable for snuffing out uppity proles. Raise both hands if you’re surprised a way was found to shift the guilt.

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