First, a capital murder primer. Capital murder cases are those in which the death penalty is available, but not required. If the State waives the death penalty and a defendant is convicted of capital murder, the sentence is automatic life in prison.
On capital appeals it too often seems that the goal is to save the conviction and find/make law to effect that purpose. That’s why this decision was so remarkable. Roberts vs. State involves a bad person, who did a bad thing, has no friends or connections politically, and no reason to expect sympathy from our highest criminal court. All Roberts had is dedicated defense lawyers, including an assistant Dallas Public Defender who represented him in the Court of Criminal Appeals, Chris Souza. Mr. Souza wrote an excellent brief with a simple request- uphold the law.
Facts- Roberts shot and killed a woman in her apartment. The woman was pregnant with an embryo. The embryo died. The state’s medical witness testified that you could not tell this woman was pregnant by looking at her. The defendant did not know the woman was pregnant. Roberts was convicted of capital murder for the intentional killing of two people.
Issue- There are many ways to commit capital murder. In this case capital murder required, inter alia, the intentional killing of two people. The problem, Robert’s didn’t know the other person (embryo) existed.
What I expected- An “intent follows the bullet”/assumption of risk harmless error holding. That is, by shooting one person intentionally then you intend to kill whatever persons are inside that person. Or this error doesn’t matter because the defendant is a piece of shit.
The actual holding- The law means what it says. You must actually intend to kill two people. This can’t be capital murder. The case is sent back to the trial court for sentencing as a regular non-capital murder with a range of punishment 5-99 years. Probation, even deferred is available, but not likely.
What this doesn’t mean– That Roberts is let go, or freed, or found not guilty. The court simply reformed the judgment from capital murder, to murder and reset the case for sentencing.
Why should you care? The law was followed. The law applies equally to everyone, even the least/worst among us.