The Felony Murder Rule: The Ryan Holle Case

Wednesday, 16. April 2014

Ryan HolleFew people have sympathy for convicted murderers, and rightly so, but you may feel differently after hearing the story of Ryan Holle, who was convicted of murder at the age of 21.

What’s unique about Holle’s case is that the prosecution fully admits that the 21-year-old was sleeping, miles away from the incident, when the killing occurred. So why was Holle sentenced to life in prison for murder? Because of an outdated law called the Felony Murder Law.

Holle’s Role

In the early morning hours of March 10, 2003, Holle was hanging with some friends after a night out partying. Holle decided he wanted to call it a night and go to bed, but his buddies had other ideas. William Allen Jr., Holle’s housemate, asked if he could borrow the 21-year-old’s car. Having no need for it since he was about to turn in for the night, Holle handed his housemate the keys.

Allen and three associates drove to the house of a well-known drug dealer a few miles away. They knew the dealer had a safe in her house, and they planned to rob it. The group went inside the house and threatened the woman and her family. During the robbery, one of the men, Charles Miller Jr., bludgeoned the drug dealer’s 18-year-old daughter to death with a shotgun he found inside the house. The group made off with a pound of marijuana and $1,425.

The Felony Murder Rule

Not surprisingly, the men were arrested for the crime shortly thereafter. What was surprising was the fact that authorities also arrested Holle, despite witness reports that he was not at the scene when the crime took place. Police decided to charge Holle with first-degree murder under a legal doctrine known as the Felony Murder Rule, which states:

Anybody who participates in a felony offense is criminally liable for any deaths that occur during or in furtherance of that felony. 

In other words, because Holle lent his car to his friend, which they then used to commit a felony, the prosecution merely needed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Holle knew his friends were going to use his car to aid in a felony offense.

Holle gave a statement to police in which he seemed to admit to knowing that his friends were going to go commit a robbery, and as the prosecutor explained during trial, “No car, no murder.”

Holle changed his stance in an interview in 2007, saying he “honestly thought they were going to get food,” adding that he didn’t think they were serious about the robbery plans.

“When they mentioned what as going on, I thought it was a joke,” he said.

They jury didn’t see it Holle’s way, and he received the same sentence as the four men at the scene of the crime – Life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Is It Justice?

It’s worth noting that the wife/drug dealer was sentenced to three years in prison for marijuana possession, but when you compare her misdeeds to those of Holle, is it really fair?

As the father pointed out during the trial, “It never would have happened unless Ryan Holle had lent the car,” but can’t the same be said about the mother? If she hadn’t been a known drug dealer with a stash of marijuana and cash, the crime would never have occurred. She got three years, but Holle could easily spend over 50 years behind bars.

Where is the justice in that?

Several Students Arrested in Dinkytown Riot

Monday, 14. April 2014

Dinkytown riot19 people, including some University of Minnesota students, were arrested Saturday in Dinkytown after a riot broke out following Minnesota’s loss in the NCAA Frozen Four championship game. 

The chaos erupted just minutes after the Gophers fell to Union College by a score of 7-4, a final tally that few saw coming when you consider Minnesota entered the Frozen Four as the odds on favorite to win the championship. Many people made their way to Dinkytown in hopes of celebrating a championship in the streets, and they didn’t take too kindly to being denied the opportunity.

The crowd began throwing rocks and beer bottles at a gathering of officers who had been dispatched to quell the impending riot. Officers responded by firing pepper spray, rubber pellets and beanbags into the crowd. One recent grad said Dinkytown “felt like a war zone.”

“There shouldn’t be riots right now. We didn’t even win,” said 22-year-old Austin Duket.

James Anderson, who rooms with Duket, said students were looking for a reason to party, and the prospect of rioting – win or lose – was already a forgone conclusion before the game.

“After Thursday, (the riots) were an event. People were like, ‘You guys want to go to the riot on Saturday?’”

Although the full arrest tally is unknown, the police scanner reported that numerous individuals were arrested for “assaultive behavior.” Officers also responded to two reports of arson and several cases of property damage, although it’s uncertain how many arrests were made in connection with those crimes.

Avery Appelman comments

As a huge hockey fan, it pains me that the Gophers fell just short of the ultimate goal, but destructive rioting is the wrong way to handle a loss. I’ve never understood why destroying public or private property in the wake of a sporting event made someone feel better.

These students could face heavy fines, and that’s just the beginning. If they have any priors, if they caused a large amount of damage, or if they were the ones who started the fires, they could face jail time. Thankfully, it doesn’t sound as if any pedestrians or officers were seriously injured during the fracas.

If you need to physically express yourself following a loss, go for a run or hit the punching bag at the gym. If you can’t channel your emotions, you might be looking for a lawyer in the near future.

Related source: Pioneer Press.

Feminist Teacher Facing Criminal Charges After Run-In With Pro-Life Teen

Tuesday, 25. March 2014

Feminist fightA women’s studies professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara has been charged with grand theft, battery and vandalism after getting into an altercation with a pro-life teen.

The incident, which was captured on cell phone video, showcases what can happen when people with strong opposing beliefs run into one another. According to the criminal complaint, 16-year-old Thrin Short, her 21-year-old sister and a group of pro-life advocates were preaching their message in a “free speech zone” on the UCSB campus on March 4. Short said she was sharing her pro-life message when Mireille Miller-Young, a professor at the university, approached the group and began disseminating her opposing view.

“Before she grabbed the sign, she was mocking me and talking over me in front of the students, saying that she was twice as old as me and had three degrees, so they should listen to her and not me,” Short said in an email to Fox News.“Then she started the chant with the students about ‘tear down the sign.’ When that died out, she grabbed the sign.”

Video Evidence

The cell phone video begins after Miller-Young and others have taken Short’s pro-life poster. Short follows the group into an elevator, where a minor physical alternation appears to take place.



Short later described the incident.

“I explained how I had been trying to keep the elevator door open with my foot, because I thought the police would be there any second, and that’s when she pushed and grabbed me,” Short’s email continued. “She then got off the elevator and tried to pull me away from the elevator doors so the others could get away with the sign.”

Short said she suffered scratches on both of her wrists as a result of the confrontation.

Miller-Young declined to comment on the incident, other than to say it was her “moral right” to act the way she did. A student in Miller-Young’s Women of Color class told reporters that “[Miller-Young is] pregnant, so she’s very sensitive to horrifying images [that were displayed].” It’s uncertain exactly what was on the poster that Short created.

Miller-Young has hired an attorney, and the UCSB said they planned to review all the evidence before making a decision in regards to Miller-Young’s employment at the university.

Related source: Fox News,

Ray Rice Summoned To Court On Assault Charges

Tuesday, 4. March 2014

Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice has been summoned to appear before a judge after he was charged with assault during an incident at an Atlantic City casino.

According to the police report, Rice and his fiancée Janay Palmer got in a physical argument at the Revel Casino. Rice’s attorneys claim a “very minor physical altercation” occurred, but video obtained by TMZ shows that the situation was anything but minor.

You can see the TMZ video below. Some of the images may be disturbing.



The video shows Rice dragging an unconscious Palmer out of the casino elevator and laying her on the ground. He later tries to prop her up, at which point it appears she regains consciousness. The court summons alleges that Rice struck his fiancée with his hand, which rendered her unconscious.

Rice’s attorneys have admitted that the video is authentic, but they say it is taken out of context.

“The video that has been put up by TMZ shows the very end of what transpired between Ray and his fiancée,” said Rice’s attorney Michael Diamondstein.

Both Rice and Parker were arrested for simple assault for their role in the incident, so it appears police believe that both parties got physical at some point during the night. Although Parker’s role in the altercation is still being investigated, her attorneys have referred the domestic violence incident to the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office for further review.

Ray Rice

Rice will make his initial appearance on March 11.

Further Punishment?

As prosecutors noted, the case has already been referred to the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office for review, but Rice could also face additional penalties by the National Football League.

Players in the NFL are required to adhere to the league’s personal conduct policy, which was initially instituted to control off-field behavior and preserve the league’s public image. Six notable players have received game suspensions as a result of off field conduct, and as the list shows, a player doesn’t necessarily need to be charged with a crime to feel the wrath of Roger Goodell.

  • Adam “Pacman” Jones was suspended for the entire 2007 season, and eventually served another 6-game suspension for repeated arrests and his involvement in a shooting at a strip club in Las Vegas.
  • Chris Henry was suspended for the first eight games in 2007 after he was arrested for the fifth time in three different states.
  • Tank Johnson was suspended for the first eight games in 2007 after he pled guilty to an illegal weapons charge.
  • Donte Stallworth was suspended for the entire 2009 season after he killed a pedestrian while driving drunk. He accepted a plea agreement in lieu of taking the case to trial.
  • Michael Vick was suspended for two regular season games in 2009 after serving a 21-month sentence in prison for his role in an illegal dog-fighting ring.
  • Ben Roethlisberger was suspended for four games in 2010 after allegations of sexual assault arose for the second time in less than a year. Roethlisberger was never charged with a crime, but he still received a suspension.

The league will likely wait to see how the case plays out, but if the judge rules that Rice knocked his fiancée unconscious, don’t expect the commissioner to take the case lightly. Even if he avoids jail time, he may be forced to watch some Ravens games from the sideline.

Related source: TMZ, Forward Times Online

Bullied Transgender Teen Fights Back, Gets Charged With Battery

Monday, 13. January 2014

A transgender teen who was routinely harassed by bullies is now facing battery charges after the teen fought back in a physical altercation that occurred on school grounds.

The fight occurred back in November, but a recent viral video thrust the case into the public spotlight. In the video, you can clearly see a group of teens punching and kicking Jewlyes Gutierrez, who is wearing a white skirt.

All of the teens were suspended for fighting on school grounds, but Gutierrez is the only person facing criminal charges. While the video doesn’t show what was said leading up to the fight or who threw the first punch, public defender Kaylie Simon is confused as to why the State would only press charges against her client.

“I don’t understand quite why the district attorney’s office would prosecute someone who’s already been a victim of bullying. I think it’s a further victimization of someone who’s been a target,” said Simon.

Simon believes her client is being punished for standing up to bullies who constantly belittled the teen, but Contra Costa County’s Senior Deputy District Attorney Dan Cabral said the teen acted in a criminal manner.

“Words are never enough to justify fists, that’s the law,” said Cabral. “For us to pick and choose who do we charge under these circumstances… would be a violation of the 14th Amendment.”

Gutierrez is scheduled to appear in court for a pre-trial conference on February 5, where she hopes the court will come to its senses and drop the charges.

“It sucks,” said Gutierrez. “I really want … like, the charges against me to be dropped.”

Mel Welch comments

Stop BullyingThe prosecutor makes an interesting statement that it is never alright to address insults with fists, and that to do so is a crime. Often, the State forgets that it is not the accused which is on trial, but the State – it is the State which must prove its allegations and the Constitution requires that it is the State against whom the presumptions are held. All too often, the State forgets this burden and believes that the threat of jail and the authority of the government are sufficient to define what is “the law” and to make the accused wilt at its threat. However, it is not the State which decides this, but a jury of one’s peers.

In this case, a bullied youth resolved the aggression she/he was receiving in an effective manner – the teen put up and the bullies shut up. While the law may say a person who assaults another is guilty of a crime, it is still the jury who decides whether the action is criminal. A tired and bullied youth, constantly harangued and aggressively insulted by classmates, made whole again by addressing the oppression in an effective manner. It is amusing, though outrageous, to see the State attempt to re-victimize the youth. Even as the State tries its inefficient hand at stopping bullying by making more laws – more laws which have the effect of creating more “criminals” while failing to address the behavior causing the actions – it is all the more apparent that these types of issues can be resolved efficiently and in the same traditional manner that they always have been: a little schoolyard sparring.

This is one example to applaud the recent statements by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder urging schools to remove law enforcement from the investigative process involving student conflict. Leave law enforcement to investigate crimes, incidents which evince a criminal intent, and not youthful indiscretions.

Related source: CBS San Francisco

Knockout Game Leads To Hate Crime Charges

Friday, 27. December 2013

Knockout GameAs we noted in a previous post, a new “game” that involves sucker punching a random stranger to see if the assailant can knockout a person with one punch has begun springing up in cities all across the country, but a recent case out of Texas has left one man facing federal hate crime charges.

According to prosecutors, 27-year-old Conrad Alvin Barrett, who is white, videotaped himself punching a 79-year-old African American man in an attempt to knock him out. The victim lost three teeth and had his jaw broken in two places as a result of the attack. He needed multiple surgeries to address his wounds and was hospitalized for four days.

The attack was captured on video by Barrett himself, who wanted to “see if I were to hit a black person, would [it] be nationally televised?” The video shows Barrett approaching the victim and asking him, “how’s it going, man?” A loud smack is then heard, and the victim falls to the ground. As Barrett walks away, he laughs and says “knockout.”

Barrett was caught after he bragged about the punch to an off-duty arson investigator at a restaurant. Barrett showed the video to the investigator, who flagged down a police officer and led him to the assailant.

Needless to say, law enforcement officials aren’t taking Barrett’s actions lightly.

“Evidence of hate crimes will be vigorously investigated and prosecuted with the assistance of all our partners to the fullest extent of the law,” said U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson.

Barrett’s attorney said his client is mentally unstable, and that he “feels horribly sympathetic” to the victim.

The next thing Barrett’s feels may be the long arm of the law. If he is convicted of a hate crime, Barrett faces the possibility of up to 10 years in prison and fines of up to $250,000.

Related source: Pioneer Press

Minnesota Supreme Court to Rule in Abusive DWI Case

Thursday, 12. December 2013

Supreme CourtBack in August, we shared the story of Jennifer Marie Axelberg, the 39-year-old woman who was convicted of a DWI as a result of an incident near her family cabin in Mora, Minnesota. What made Jennifer’s case unique was that she claimed she only got behind the wheel on the night in question because she feared for her life. You can read to full story here, but he’s a summation of what happened that night.

On May 30, 2011, Jennifer and her husband Jason drove to their family cabin in Mora. After drinking at a nearby resort, the couple returned to their cabin. An argument ensued, and Jennifer claimed her husband pushed her, hit her, and took her cell phone.

Fearing for her safety, Jennifer left the cabin and got into her car. Her husband came outside shortly afterwards and punched the car’s windshield, causing it to crack. Not knowing what would happen if her husband got inside the car, Jennifer started the engine and drove back to the resort with her husband in pursuit on foot. A witness called police, and although Jason was booked on charges of domestic assault and disorderly conduct, Jennifer was arrested on suspicion of driving while impaired.

Jennifer was later convicted of a DWI after chemical tests showed that he had a blood-alcohol content of .18. Like anyone in her position, she appealed the conviction on the grounds of the necessity defense, but an appellate court ruled 2-1 against her. In their majority opinion, the judges stated that Jennifer created an additional risk of injury to the general public by driving while impaired.

Judge Margaret H. Chutich issued a dissenting opinion in the appellate case, saying that the “defense is available in cases where extraordinary circumstances exist.” Citing that Jason had already pleaded guilty to his charges, Chutich said it was clear that a physical altercation had taken place, and she would have reversed the conviction.

Supreme Ruling

The Minnesota Supreme Court has the power to overturn the DWI conviction when they hear the case on Thursday, but some believe reversing the decision will open the door for other DWI offenders to claim they were fleeing from an abusive situation. This could put innocent spouses or drivers at a greater risk of false accusations or injury.

Jennifer has clearly provided enough evidence to prove that her husband had physically assaulted her on the night in question, but there are many other factors that weigh into the decision. For example, Jennifer claimed she only drove because she was rather unfamiliar with the area and sought the safety of the resort. On the other side of the coin, prosecutors can argue that her decision to consume alcohol contributed, at least partially, to the escalating ordeal. Had she stayed under the legal limit, there wouldn’t have been any problem.

We hope Jennifer gets the justice she deserves. Abusive relationships are terrible, and nobody knows how they would react in a similar situation. Thankfully nobody was hurt by Jennifer’s decision to drive, but the outcome could have been a lot worse if she had stayed at the cabin that night. We’ll update the story once the Minnesota Supreme Court issues its ruling.

New NYC Police Commissioner in Favor of Stop-and-Frisk Tactics

Monday, 9. December 2013

Stop and friskThe stop-and-frisk debate in New York City took an interesting turn last week when mayor-elect Bill de Blasio named William J. Bratton his Police Commissioner. Although de Blasio has openly promised to put an end to the stop-and-frisk tactics, his new Police Commissioner has a different stance on the issue.

“First off, stop-question-and-frisk has been around forever,” Bratton said when asked about the matter. “It is known by stop-and-frisk in New York, but other cities describe it other ways, like stop-question-and-frisk or Terry stops. It’s based on a Supreme Court case from 1968, Terry v. Ohio, which focused very significantly on it. Stop-and-frisk is such a basic tool of policing. It’s one of the most fundamental practices in American policing. If cops are not doing stop-and-frisk, they are not doing their jobs. It is a basic, fundamental tool of police work in the whole country. If you do away with stop-and-frisk, this city will go down the chute as fast as anything you can imagine.”

As we blogged about when Judge Scheindlin first ruled the practice unconstitutional, attorney Mel Welch disagrees with those who believe stop-and-frisk is a necessary tool in the fight against crime.

“I’m sure instituting a mandatory curfew would also reduce crime rates,” said Welch. “But we can’t continue to use the guise of ‘safety’ as a way to restrict the rights of ordinary citizens.”

Welch added that our Constitution guarantees its citizens certain liberties, but Bratton “believes that law enforcement cannot properly protect citizens without doing away with those liberties.”

No End In Sight

Bratton will officially take over as Police Commissioner on January 1, 2014, and the stop-and-frisk policies could take center stage shortly thereafter. De Blasio has already stated he is in favor of Judge Scheindlin’s ruling, but don’t be surprised if Bratton attempts to broker a new agreement.

“You have to take action against minor offenses,” said Bratton. “It has to be done respectfully, and it has to be done consistently. But it has to be done.”

Welch believes the city needs to listen to a sentiment provided by one of our founding fathers.

“I believe it was the great orator Ben Franklin who said, ‘Those who sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither.’”

Related source: The New Yorker

Trevino Sentenced to 27.5 Years In Prison

Monday, 25. November 2013

Jeffery TrevinoJeffery Trevino has been sentenced to 27.5 years in prison stemming from a second-degree murder charge in the death of his wife, Kira Steger.

According to sentencing guidelines, Trevino faced a maximum of 15 years in prison, but prosecutors said the case called for a stiffer punishment. They asked the judge to sentence Trevino to 30 years in prison because of the hardships he inflicted upon the Steger family. Prosecutors said he could have helped authorities find Steger’s body during the months-long search, but he refused to cooperate. The judge eventually settled on a 330-month sentence.

During the sentencing hearing, Steger’s family shared victim impact statements with the court to express how they have been affected by Kira’s death. Kira’s father, mother, and sister shared heartfelt messages with the judge. Trevino was allowed to respond to the victim impact statements, but he declined to address the court.

Getting Closure

Trevino’s sentencing helped bring closure to the Steger family whose ordeal began last February when they received word that Kira had gone missing. Authorities wasted little time in arresting Jeffery for the crime, and although evidence was stacked against Trevino, Kira’s body still remained missing three months after her disappearance. In May, divers recovered a body from the Mississippi River that was later confirmed to be Steger.

The case went to trial in September, and Trevino was found guilty of Unintentional Murder in the second degree in early October. Jurors settled on Unintentional Murder because they didn’t believe there was enough evidence to prove that Trevino intended to kill his wife.

“Did he intend to do it, or was it an accident?” said Brandon Wilson, who sat on the jury. “I just feel like the state didn’t show enough evidence that he did.”

Criminal Defense Attorney Avery Appelman said he wasn’t surprised by the harsh sentence.

“This was a high-profile case,” said Appelman. “When you look at all the aggravating factors, it’s reasonable to surmise that the judge wanted to send a message with the extended sentence.”

Related source: Fox 9 Twin Cities

5 Legal Changes Adopted After President Kennedy Was Assassinated

Friday, 22. November 2013

JFKPolls collected over the last fifty years show the John F. Kennedy was the most popular president of the 20th century, so it’s no surprise that his assassination sent shockwaves through the nation. The ripple effects of the events on November 22, 1963 still resonate today, so in honor of the 50th anniversary of JFK’s death, here are five ways the presidency and the legal system has been impacted by his assassination.

Continued Protection – Before 1963, policymakers paid little attention to the president and his family after they left the White House. That all changed after JFK was assassinated, because there was still the possibility that Jackie Kennedy and the children were in danger. Although John’s death meant that Jackie and the children would eventually have to leave the White House, Congress wanted to make sure another tragedy didn’t befall the family.

In the weeks after the assassination, Congress passed a law that extended secret service protection for the Kennedy family for another two years. In 1965, Congress expanded the law so that former presidents, their wives, and their minor children would have protection for the remainder of their lives. In 1997, Congress reduced protection to 10 years after the president left office, but Barack Obama recently reversed the measure, and as it stands, former presidents and their families receive protection for the remainder of their lives.

Out With Convertibles, In With Limos – JFK was killed while he was riding in the back of a car with an open-air top. President Kennedy was a president for the people, but his desire to be closer to the public also contributed to his death.

Today, President Obama rides around with a lot more protection. Some of the security features on his limo, nicknamed “The Beast,” include:

  • Thick bulletproof doors and windows that can withstand an IED.
  • A night-vision operating system.
  • Oxygen tanks.
  • A blood bank stocked with units that match the president’s blood type.

Fewer Public Walks – President Kennedy was well known for his strolls around the capitol and Washington D.C., but secret service agents were reluctant to let presidents walk around so openly after JFK’s death. As weapon technology continues to improve, the possibility that the president is vulnerable on the White House lawn is a threat worth taking seriously. Barack Obama has made a few heavily guarded appearances on Pennsylvania Avenue since he took office, but Kennedy often took more strolls in a week than Obama has since he took office.

Less Glad-handing – Back in simpler times, presidents campaigned for votes by shaking hands and kissing babies. After the president was killed, actions were taken to prevent those with sinister motives from getting too close to the Chief of State. Public appearances were shifted to well-controlled environments, and less frequent, larger appearances took precedence over small, more frequent campaign stops.

Beefed Up Security – Increased presidential security is the theme throughout these five changes, but the secret service decided to beef up their presence in the wake of Kennedy’s assassination. In 1963, there were roughly 500 secret service agents, and about 350 of them were considered special agents. Today, there are about 6,700 secret service agents, and nearly half of them act as special agents for the president.

Related source: ABC News


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