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NO SMOKING GUN NECESSARY: Murder definitions vary state to state

January 9, 2012

When Ralph D. Hardiek was killed Dec. 15 in a hail of gunfire from law enforcement officers, his partner, Julie Marie King, 33 was also hit and injured by the flying lead.
Late last week, DeKalb County prosecutors decided that while King did not shoot Hardiek, much less fire the fatal bullet that killed him, she was ultimately responsible for his death.
According to Whitley County Prosecuting Attorney Matt Rentschler, King’s fate may well have been the same here as in DeKalb County. Rentschler said Monday a suspect need only have indirect involvement in the death of someone else in order to be charged with murder.
“The Felony Murder rule has been around a long time,” Rentschler said on Monday.
“If a person is engaged in felonious conduct, and somebody dies in the course of that conduct, whether it was intended or not, they are liable under the felony murder statute.”
In a case such as the one involving King and Hardiek, who were both shot by police after Hardiek shot and wounded Waterloo Deputy Marshal Stephen Brady last month, prosecutors interpret the act of killing someone as having simply been involved in a felony criminal act that resulted in a death.
However, the state statute isn’t as clear, which leaves the law open to interpretation. In the Waterloo case, as well as in the case of Dustin Louis Stewart, 29, in Grady County, Oklahoma, prosecutors have taken a “guilt by association” stance.
Stewart was an accomplice to Justin Martin, who was killed by 18-year-old widow Sarah McKinley on New Year’s Eve.
Stewart and Martin broke into McKinley’s house, according to various news reports, to obtain drugs that may have been taken by McKinley’s late husband, who had died recently.
While Martin was shot and killed by McKinley, Stewart has been charged with Martin’s murder.
Prosecutors in the King case cite Indiana Code 35-42-1-1(2) as the precedent for charging King with murder.
That code reads “kills another human being while committing or attempting to commit arson, burglary, child molesting, consumer product tampering, criminal deviate conduct, kidnapping, rape, robbery, human trafficking, promotion of human trafficking, sexual trafficking of a minor, or carjacking...”
DeKalb County’s prosecutor had not returned phone calls at press time.
In Oklahoma, James Walters is first assistant district attorney for Oklahoma’s 6th District. He is involved in prosecuting Stewart and said the law is cut and dried in such a case.
While in Indiana, the “indirect culpability” is implied, it’s spelled out in detail on the Oklahoma books.
In the Oklahoma statutes, Title 21 (crimes and punishments), Chapter 24 (homicide), Section 701.7 (murder in the first degree), definition B states “A person also commits the crime of murder in the first degree, regardless of malice, when that person or any other person takes the life of a human being during, or if the death of a human being results from, the commission or attempted commission of murder of another person...”
“It has some pretty strong language,” Walters said.

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