Life In Prison: Felony Murder
In California, three young men are serving life in prison.
They were all found guilty of murder even though only one them actually
did the killing and the other two swear they didn't even know he had a
weapon let alone that he would kill somebody. How does that happen?
It's the law. The felony murder rule law - but this old law is under new
attack - as well as being vigorously defended - because of cases like
Brandon Hein - a teenager who went looking for marijuana and ended up in
prison for life. The felony murder law, which goes all the way back
to old English law, treats people who are guilty of lesser crimes as
murderers if they are with murderers when the murder occurs, reports Dan
Hein was 17 in 1995 when he and some teenage friends got
into in a fistfight. One of those friends pulled out a knife
up killing another teenager. All four are now serving life sentences.
It began on the kind of day dreaded by parents of troubled teenagers. Five
of the boys were drinking alcohol and driving around their mostly safe
suburbs near Los Angeles. In the afternoon, they stopped in a
parking lot. One of them grabbed a wallet, which turned out to be empty,
from inside a car. The owner, a mother playing nearby with her two kids,
cornered them and demanded her wallet returned. Another boy cursed at her
and allegedly hit her car.
The five drove off this time to find some marijuana. They went to the
home of the neighborhood drug dealer another high school teenager
named Mike McLoren, who sold marijuana from a one-room structure in his
mothers backyard. McLorens friend and neighbor, 15-year old Jimmy
Farris, was with him that day. One of the teens stayed with the
pickup trick; the others, including Hein, Jason Holland, 18, and his
15-year-old brother Micah, approached Mike McLorens shed, which was
called "the fort." Jason Holland says he was drunk and
lagging behind the others and he did not see how the argument between
McLoren and his brother started.
By the time I get in there, he says step into the door, he and
Mike McLoren are standing, like, face to face, you know, and, you know,
there was clearly a problem there. They were already in a
argument, you know. But there was no words being exchanged by the time I
got in there. Immediately when I got in there, I stepped in there, they
just dropped their heads and started fighting. Brandon Hein
jumped into the fray; so did Jason, who says he was trying to protect his
brother Micah from the bigger and stronger McLoren.
Mike McLoren was on top of my brother, Jason says, hes
hammering him in the back of the neck, and I'm telling him to get off him,
get off him. You know, I'm trying to pull him off of him. I'm hitting him,
I'm yelling at him. He's not listening, so I pulled a knife and I stabbed
him. After two times of pricking him in the back and he wasn't
getting off my brother, I stabbed him in the chest. After stabbing
McLoren, Jason stabbed McLorens friend Jimmy Farris. McLoren
survived; Farris did not.
Mike Latin and Jeff Semow, the two Los Angeles deputy district attorneys
who prosecuted the case, charged each teen under the felony murder rule
under the theory that they went to the place where the murder occurred
with the intention of robbing the victims. I guarantee you
this, says Latin. That stabber would not have been there if he
didn't have the bravado that the accompaniment of the other four young
boys gave him. He wouldn't have been there. Semow says the rule
is designed as a warning to those who would participate in gang robberies.
They are not going to be able to hide behind the defense of saying,
But the other guy actually pulled the trigger, if, in fact, the
victim is killed, he says.
For the felony murder rule to apply, prosecutors had to prove that a
felony occurred. Without that, the felony murder rule could not apply.
All the defendants deny intending to rob the marijuana: Going there to
buy some weed, says Jason Holland. We were just partying, having a
good time. But the jury did not believe him. Instead, jurors were
convinced the snatching of the mothers wallet earlier in the day
indicated they also plotted to rob drug dealer Mike McLoren.
The teenagers families were stunned when they heard the verdicts and
the sentences: Jason Holland and Brandon Hein were convicted of murder and
got life without the possibility of parole. Micah was convicted of murder
and got 29 years to life.
The fourth defendant, Anthony Miliotti, 17, got life without the
possibility of parole even though he stood at the door and never got into
the fight. The fifth teen, who stayed with the truck, pled guilty and was
sentenced to nine years.
Brandons parents, Gene Hein and Pat Kraetch say their son is being
punished for something he did not do. I don't know over the years how
many people have come up to me now, adults, who have gotten past that
scary 18- to 25-year-old age and said, But for the grace of God, it
could have been me, says his mother.
Jeff Laden speaks for the group when he charges that their boys were
punished not for what they did but for who was killed: the son of a
30-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department. It's about
a police officer's son who died. And the only way they could convict all
these kids was use the Felony Murder Rule, Laden says.
Dont tell that to Jimmy Farriss parents. Jim Farris, his father,
says, The fact that I'm a policeman has nothing to do with anything. I
just happen to be a policeman whose son was murdered. That's it.
Jimmys mother, Judy, asks, How much is too much time for killing
someone? For taking away and changing our lives completely, forever?
As for Jimmy Ferriss friend, Mike McLoren, he was never prosecuted for
selling drugs. He still lives at home. When 60 Minutes II visited, he
refused to speak with correspondents or crew.
No one feels worse about the punishment of the others than Jason Holland.
I didn't try to kill him, I didn't mean to kill him, he says. But
he died. I can't give it back, but I took responsibility for it. I thought
that was the right thing to do, and I thought that they would do the right
thing, but they didn't. They came after us. And they got my brother
and my two buddies. And we're all doing life now. And they're doing life
for something they didn't do.
England, where the felony rule began (and was known as "being an
accessory after the fact"), took it off the books in 1957, believing
it is wrong to punish someone who intends to rob as severely as someone
who intends to kill. Many states have followed suit; California is not one
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They are in prison, because they killed a teenager
Dan Rather explains that if a murder is committed and you are present in
the place where the
murder is committed, you are also guilty of murder - even if you didnt
The story started one
afternoon, when five boys, who had been drinking were driving around
First they parked and stole a wallet, then they went to a friends house
to look for some marijuana.
The furious fighting started with an argument. Jason tried to help his
brother who was fighting
with Mc Loren.
Brandon Hein started fighting as well. Jason wanted to save his brother.
He took his knife and injured Mc Loren, then
he stabbed Mc Lorens friend.
Farris, McLoren s friend.
killer was Jason .The others were only present when the murder occurred
They thought that the group intended to steal the marijuana; moreover that
the group had actually planned beforehand. Felony murder
law is applied when there is an intention of robbery
The parents are sure that their boys were punished, because the boy, who
had been killed, was the son of a Los Angeles policeman
It no longer exists in England. It
originated from England, as 'being an accessory after the fact,' but was
taken off the Statute Books in 1957.