Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Cracker Barrel Killings and Extreme Emotional Disturbance

Some of you may have heard the tragic story of the recent deaths at Cracker Barrel Resraurant outside of Cleveland, OH.  For those of you who haven’t heard, the reports go something like this-

According to ABC News: A man whose wife had just told him she was leaving him [that part is especially important to our conversation today] shot and killed her and one of their daughters, who was celebrating her birthday, inside a crowded Cracker Barrel restaurant in a Cleveland suburb, then was killed by police as he fled [other reports indicate he “refused to surrender” rather than “fled”].

Kevin Allen came into the restaurant [I am still confused as to whether Kevin Allen went with the family to Cracker Barrel initially, left and came back, or whether they went without him] in suburban Brooklyn on Thursday night with a shotgun and, witnesses said, "selectively" fired on his family. The shooting created panic and confusion in the restaurant, and a manager helped get people out through a rear door, a witness said.

In addition to the death of Katherina Allen, 42, and Kerri Allen, 10, the couple's other 10-year-old daughter, Kayla, was wounded and in critical condition, authorities said. According to police records, Thursday was Kerri Allen's birthday [I assume the 2 daughters named Kerri and Kayla, who were both 10 years old, were twins.  But I don’t know that to be fact.  Maybe they were Irish Twins].

Obviously this is a startling and very tragic story.  Especially considering the children involved, one of whom will grow up without her mother, father, and sister.

Today, I’d like to talk to you about Extreme Emotional Disturbance (hereinafter, “EED”).  I don’t know anything about this story except what has been reported, so for the sake of today’s conversation, let’s assume the above reports are true and accurate.  The question for the day is (assuming he had lived and would be able to be tried before a jury): would Kevin Allen be found guilty of Murder?

Murder is a specific homicide crime, defined and governed in this great Commonwealth by KRS 507.020.

(1) A person is guilty of murder when:
(a) With intent to cause the death of another person, he causes the death of such person or of a third person; except that in any prosecution a person shall not be guilty under this subsection if he acted under the influence of extreme emotional disturbance for which there was a reasonable explanation or excuse, the reasonableness of which is to be determined from the viewpoint of a person in the defendant's situation under the circumstances as the defendant believed them to be. However, nothing contained in this section shall constitute a defense to a prosecution for or preclude a conviction of manslaughter in the first degree or any other crime; or

(b) Including, but not limited to, the operation of a motor vehicle under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to human life, he wantonly engages in conduct which creates a grave risk of death to another person and thereby causes the death of another person.

(2) Murder is a capital offense. [meaning the state can kill you for committing the crime] [boldness added for emphasis]

The interesting part about the Murder statute in Kentucky, as you can see above, is that EED is not just a defense to Murder; the Commonwealth must prove a lack of EED as an element of the offense.  If they fail to do so, and the jury believes that EED is present, then the more appropriate conviction should be under Manslaughter in the First Degree, KRS 507.030, which states, in pertinent part: With intent to cause the death of another person, he causes the death of such person or of a third person under circumstances which do not constitute murder because he acts under the influence of extreme emotional disturbance, as defined in subsection (1)(a) of KRS 507.020. (2) Manslaughter in the first degree is a Class B felony.

Since a Class A Felony carries 20 years to life (and possibly the death penalty), but a Class B felony carries a punishment of 10-20 years, it can mean the difference between having a life after prison, or not having a life outside of prison.  Obviously, the element of EED can be extremely important.

So what does it mean, exactly?  Good question, I like the fact that you’re paying attention.  The classic example of EED is: Man comes home and finds wife in bed with stranger.  Man goes off the deep end and shoots wife and stranger.  Man committed what would have been Murder, but because he was in a pretty jacked up situation, and had a flood of feelings and emotions come over him, we're going to ease up on him a bit.  The extreme emotional disturbance that Man was under will lessen the crime to Manslaughter in the First Degree.

The same sense of overwhelming emotional turmoil may very well have been present in Kevin Allen’s mind at the time of the Cracker Barrel killings.  The report states that his wife expressed the fact that she was leaving to Kevin.  The reports aren't clear, but it looks like she went to Cracker Barrel without him to celebrate their daughter's birthday without Kevin.  Assuming Kevin really believed his wife was leaving him and that he may never see his children again, I think a lot of jurors would genuinely believe that Kevin was under extreme emotional disturbance, taking the facts from Kevin’s viewpoint, as Kevin believed them to be.

Or maybe not.  If I was a prosecutor, I would probably try to convince the jury that if Kevin believed his family was going to be taken away from him, it would only be logical that Kevin would have focused that rage on his wife alone, whom he believed to be the cause of his broken family.  He wouldn’t have turned on his daughters.

But that might be injecting a level of logic that isn’t present in someone who is genuinely under extreme emotional disturbance.  Right?  I mean the whole point is that we, as a society, are going to allow mitigation of the punishment due to the fact that some extreme circumstances can make a person act extremely illogically.  Am I wrong?  

Maybe I should stop asking.  I guess we’ll never know how a jury would have ruled on this.

Murder is a capital offense in Kentucky.  It is an extremely serious charge.  If you are charged with Murder, you need a lawyer who understands the law and is willing to fight for your Constitutional Rights.  Call 502.618.4949 today for a free consultation about your case.  Simms & Reed, PLLC.  Results.  As fast as the law will allow.

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