More on Murder for Hire

 Posted by on 13 March 2003 at 10:55 am  Uncategorized
Mar 132003
 

In response to my question about whether payments to the families of suicide bombers constitutes solicitation of murder, my friend Bill Perry (former prosecutor and present judge in Arizona) offers a useful analysis:

Perhaps some of my experience and analysis can be of assistance. I’ve prosecuted a murder for hire case in which a murder occurred. I’ve also prosecuted murder for hire cases which did not result in a murder.

In the case in which the murder occurred  I convicted the person who was hired at trial.  He was sentenced to life in prison.  I prosecuted the woman who hired him in a case that was covered on Court TV.  The jury hung.  Another prosecutor tried her later and she was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.  The woman’s boyfriend plead to solicitation of murder (which is specifically a crime in Arizona) and received a lesser prison sentence.

In this case the woman hired the killer to murder her husband. However, she did not pay him.  Payment was to be what he could steal from the victim who was a used car sales manager and carried a lot of cash, plus a later payment.  Thus, there is some analogy to the case of paying murderer’s families in the suicide bomber scenario since there was a subsequent payment.

I am certain that under Arizona law, and the law of most states as well, that if someone offered a bounty to kill a specific person they could be prosecuted successfully (assuming proof issues).  I am not quite as certain that they could be prosecuted for a general call to kill someone in a specific group, with a later payment,  but I think that they could.  I know of no case law on the subject.

The Arizona law is based on the Model Penal Code, and is a good example in this situation.

The crime of solicitation is defined as follows in Section 13-1002(A)  “A person, other than a peace officer acting in his official capacity within the scope of his authority, and in the line of duty, commits solicitation if, with the intent to promote or facilitate the commission of a felony or misdemeanor, such person commands, encourages, requests or solicits another person to engage in specific conduct which would constitute the felony or misdemeanor or which would establish the other’s complicity in its commission.”

However, this crime is seldom prosecuted in this manner because the accomplice statutes make a person guilty of the offense itself (if it is committed) if under Section 13-303 (B)(1) “The person solicits or commands another person to engage in the conduct causing such result:” or (2) The person aids, counsels, agrees to aid or attempts to aid another person in planning or engaging in the conduct causing such result.”  Thus a prosecutor can charge a person who solicits murder with the completed offense should the murder be committed.

In my case the woman who hired the hit man was ultimately convicted because she hired him.  She was not present at the time of the murder.  She was convicted under an accomplice theory.  The boyfriend was plead to solicitation because he was not involved in the plot at the end, and was a much lesser participant.  In theory he could have been convicted of first degree murder as well.

Let’s analogize this to a terrorist suicide bombing.  We will assume that the acts take place in Arizona, or a place with similar statutes.  There are two groups A and B.  A1 is a member of a group which hates all individuals belonging to the group B.  He publicly announces that he will pay a bounty to the family of anyone who wires himself with bombs and kills B1 (a specific individual belonging to group B).  A2 wires himself up and kills B1.  A1 pays $100,000 to A2′s family.  Assuming proof beyond a reasonable doubt A1 is guilty of murder under an accomplice theory and is also guilty of solicitation of murder.

Let’s change the facts a bit.  A1 makes the same public announcement.  However, it is an announcement that he will pay a bounty to the family of anyone who wires himself with bombs and kills any member of group B.  A2 wires himself up and kills B2.  A1 pays the bounty to A2′s family.   I would argue that the same result would occur, because the statutes solicitation and accomplice statutes do not mention a specific person.  However, I know of no case law.

Here is another scenario.  A1 makes the same public announcement with B1 as a target.  No one kills B1.  The question here revolves around the meaning of the portion of the statute that says, “…commands, encourages, requests or solicits another person.” The question is whether that requirement is that the defendant solicit a specific person.  The solicitation statute is met except for that, portion and I don’t know how a court would rule.  I’ve also prosecuted cases in which people have attempted to hire hit men to kill people.  Of course they ended up soliciting cops.  In that case they have started out with a general solicitation, and moved on to specifically soliciting one individual to do the killing. I’ve never seen anyone advocate prosecution for the general solicitation, but I suspect that if something as blatant as a general call to kill a specific person with a reward occurred in a suicide bombing context that most prosecutor’s offices would prosecute, and most courts would uphold a broader interpretation.

Finally we have the situation in which A1 makes the same public announcement which members of group B in general as a target.  I don’t think that the fact that a specific target is not named would bar the application of the statutes.  The same problems of the call going to people in general, rather than a person would apply.

Thanks, Bill! I’m still a bit unclear on one issue though. Are the family members of the suicide bombers who accept the cash payment for the murder (and who perhaps even encouraged the suicide bomber to commit murder) accomplices in any legal sense? It sounds like case law hasn’t extended even remotely that far in the United States, but I do wonder what prevents Israel from prosecuting the family of suicide bombers for receiving cash payments for murder. I don’t get to say this often, but there ought to be a law!

   
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