Criminal Justice

She Killed Herself. He Was Charged With Her Murder.

The felony murder rule continues to criminalize people for killing people they didn't actually kill.


An Alabama prisoner has been charged with murdering a correctional officer who killed herself.

That is not a misprint.

On April 29, Casey White escaped from the Lauderdale County Jail with the help of Vicky White, who was the assistant director of corrections. The pair were engaged in a romantic relationship (and were not related).

White's escape led to an 11-day search for the duo, culminating in a high-speed chase that ended with Vicky White fatally shooting herself in the head. Law enforcement recently charged Casey White with her murder.

It is not contested that Vicky White died by suicide, and prosecutors acknowledge that she acted on her own volition when she facilitated the escape. But under the felony murder rule, law enforcement may charge someone with a killing they didn't actually carry out if the death occurred in the commission of another felony—in this case, Casey White's first-degree escape.

He is certainly not a sympathetic character. But his murder charge is yet another example of how the felony murder rule has been bastardized in its application, joining a long list of cases that read almost like parody.

Consider the case of Jenna Holm, an Idaho woman who was experiencing an apparent mental health crisis when cops were called to help her. Upon arriving, Sergeant Randy Flegel drove his car into Bonneville County Sheriff's Deputy Wyatt Maser, killing him. An internal investigation produced a laundry list of safety protocols the cops failed to follow that evening. But instead of assigning blame to negligent officers, they charged Holm with manslaughter. If she had not been in crisis that evening, then police never would have been called, and thus they would all still be living.

The charges were eventually ruled unconstitutional under Idaho law, but only after Holm sat in jail for 16 months in pre-trial detention.

Not every defendant has been so fortunate, if you can call Holm fortunate. There was the case of Masonique Saunders, who, at 16 years old, allegedly helped her then-boyfriend, Julius Ervin Tate Jr., plan a botched robbery. A SWAT agent shot and killed Tate, which police acknowledge, yet law enforcement charged Saunders with murdering him.

A more traditional application can be seen with the case of Fanta Bility, an 8-year-old girl who police shot and killed in Pennsylvania while trying to break up a gunfight between two teens. The latter were charged with first-degree murder under the doctrine of transferred intent. Although those charges were later dropped, it's not unfair to argue that the teens created a violent environment that directly facilitated Bility's death. (Officers Devon Smith, Sean Dolan, and Brian Devaney have since been charged with manslaughter and reckless endangerment.)

But, as with so many laws, the government continues to weaponize felony murder, allowing some people—including government agents—to completely shirk responsibility.