Murder Charges in News Copter Crashes?
One of the stories I missed blogging while on my recent mini-vacation was the crash of two news helicopters in Phoenix last week while they were racing to get the best angles in covering a police chase. The chasee faces murder charges:
Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas said Tuesday his office will continue reviewing whether to file murder charges against Christopher J. Jones, 23, who police were chasing when the two news helicopters crashed while taping the incident.
Thomas said his office is continuing to work with the Phoenix Police Department and that the department has insisted he seek murder charges against Jones, who was leading the police chase when two helicopters crashed, killing four news crewmen. “These people were doing an important job and that is providing news to the people of this community,” Thomas said.
Thomas has not said whether he will pursue homicide charges. He said much will depend on the results of the investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board. “The facts we need to complete this investigation just haven’t been complete,” he said.
Regardless, legal experts cautioned that could be a tough legal road to go down. Arizona law allows a criminal to be charged with murder if someone is killed while committing a felony. The law assumes the criminal should have known there was a chance someone could have died while committing the crime. For example, if someone robs a store at gunpoint it’s reasonable to assume the gun could accidentally fire and kill an innocent bystander. Legal experts also said the robber should presume that the cashier of the store could fire their own gun and kill an innocent customer.
But defense attorneys contacted by the Tribune have said it’s too early to determine what caused the crash and added that Jones could not have reasonably assumed that a pair news helicopters would collide while taping footage of the police chase.
I generally support the Felony Murder Rule but this stretches it beyond reason. I agree with Andrew Samwick on this one: “The helicopter occupants were not innocent bystanders. They chose to be in the vicinity of the felony knowing that it was in progress. It’s tragic that they died in the crash, but it seems farfetched to hold the perp legally responsible for that.”
In addition to it being unreasonable to expect Jones to foresee news helicopters crashing into one another while he was attempting to flee — and there being serious questions as to whether his action s or negligent practices on their part was the proximate cause of the crash — it strikes me that the main incentive for charging a man who already faces 123 years in prison with murder here is to force him to cop a plea. In all respects, then, doing so would be an abuse of police power.