There is an interesting case out of Orlando that raises questions about the use of felony murder charges by prosecutors whenever there is a fatality in the commission of a crime. Kody Roach was charged with felony murder even though he never fired a shot and the victim, Maria Fernada Godinez, 22, was actually killed by a police officer.
According to reports, three officers were dispatched to the Vixen Bar after a bouncer reported to a 911 operator that “I have a gun-wielding maniac. He set it on the bar top and he wielded it many times. I had to throw him out.” While the bouncer was unarmed, he was able to remove Roach from the bar but when the first two officers arrived, Officer Eduardo Sanguino and a fellow bicycle officer, Jeff Angel, they said that Roach was at the bar’s locked door.
News reports state that “surveillance video obtained by Vixen Bar shows Roach dropping his gun after he was kicked out of the bar for carrying a gun.” However, that does not appear to be the account of the officers.
They say that Roach walked to the street “pointing his right hand at the officers,” and ignored commands to get on the ground. Instead, he began to walk back toward the bar. Angel fired his Taser but said that the taser had little effect due to Roach’s loose clothing. They say that Roach went for his waistband with his right hand, and according to the affidavit in the case:
“In order to prevent an armed individual from causing harm to any members of the public or to any of the surrounding officers, Ofc. Sanguino discharges his firearm nine times striking Roach at least five times.”
They say that when he fell, Roach dropped a .40 caliber Ruger handgun from his right hand — a stolen gun that was later found the gun to be unloaded. Only Sanguino appears to have fired any shots.
The use of the felony murder charge has long been controversial in such cases, particularly because some have questioned why an unarmed bouncer could remove Rouch but three officers had to fire multiple shots to subdue him. We have previously discussed the sharp statistical difference between officer shootings in this country as opposed to other countries.
Roach however has not been charged in the stolen-gun case — a charge stemming from the disappearance of a weapon from a friend’s apartment after an argument. Notably, Roach has a criminal history dating back to 2009 that includes charges of battery on a law-enforcement officer, grand theft, violating probation and driving with a suspended license.
The Florida felony murder statute (like virtually all such statutes) does not require that the perpetrator pull the trigger or even know of or support the ultimate act. He is only required to have been engaged in a felony during which a life was taken. However, the law was designed with murders in mind that were caused by co-conspirators like a partner shooting a convenience store clerk. Here it was the police who killed the woman and Rouch had an unloaded weapon. Ideally, such cases are handled by prosecutorial discretion but prosecutors today radically inflate charges to force defendants to take tough plea agreements or face life in prison.
The officers clearly have a right to defend themselves and they may indeed be cleared of any wrongdoing. However, there remains the question of whether the death of this young lady should be charged as murder against Rouch. He is by no means blameless of course but the case raises the question of the reasonable limits (or any limits) in the charging of felony murder in such cases.
What do you think?
Kudos: Michael Blott