One of the most disturbing crimes before Christmas has resulted in criminal charges. Gary Holmes, 33, has been charged with capital murder after he killed a three-year-old Arkansas boy, Acen King, out Christmas shopping with his grandmother in a senseless road rage incident. The murder charge is well founded but the case raises again the growing trend of prosecutors adding “terrorism” charges to such cases.
There was a $40,000 award offered to catch the culprit in the shooting after Holmes fled the scene of the crime. He allegedly shot the boy after becoming enraged that the grandmother was too slow after braking for a stop sign. After Holmes shot into the car, the grandmother drove away to call the police.
Holmes was also charged with two counts of carrying out a terroristic act. It is the addition of the terrorism counts that raises question over count stacking. The Arkansas law states:
5-13-310. Terroristic act.
(a) A person commits a terroristic act if, while not in the commission of a lawful act, the person:
(1) Shoots at or in any manner projects an object at a conveyance which is being operated or which is occupied by another person with the purpose to cause injury to another person or damage to property; or
(2) Shoots at an occupiable structure with the purpose to cause injury to a person or damage to property.
That seems virtually indistinguishable from the murder charges for all practical purposes. After 9-11 prosecutors started tacking on “terrorism” charges to what was once conventional criminal cases. The concern is that these charges are stacking counts based on the same underlying conduct. They also serve to devalue more conventional terrorism charges. If most crimes can be defined as terrorism, the term begins to lose its meaning. Moreover, there are often special procedures and sentencing provisions for terrorism. The result can not only be the inflation of sentencing but the loss of definition for such crimes.
In this case, Holmes is looking at a very strong prosecution for capital murder. The question is whether there is a practical or substantive need for the additional charges that redefine the road rage murder as terrorism. We were all enraged by this senseless and horrific act, but a capital murder charge certainly embodies that public outrage. Is there a need to add terrorism charges to such cases?
What do you think?