This is an active case and we will be watching it closely but due to the absurd application of the felony murder law we felt it deserved space on the Just Us web site
Officers take aim and end up hitting one defendant and another office who later died from his injuries. A case of friendly fire? The alleged robber, Christopher Ransom, and a lookout that was not party to any shooting have been charged with Felony Murder in the death of the officer. Repeat, neither man shot anyone and Ransom only had a toy gun, albeit used inappropriately, which could have resulted in him being killed by police. But that attempt by police went astray when the firing officers bullet hit the other officer instead. Of course the official statement from the District Attorneys office blame this fully on the defendants. In a statement “The defendant and his co-defendant are wholly responsible and wholly culpable for the injuries sustained by Sergeant Gorman and the untimely death of Detective Simonsen,” said Assistant District Attorney Michael Curtis during Freeman’s arraignment. The police department echos that opinion. “Make no mistake about it, friendly fire aside, it is because of the actions of the suspect that Detective Simonsen is dead,” said NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill at a press conference the night of Simonsen’s death.
This is becoming all too common a theme where police shoot and kill someone and the defendants are charged with that murder. Indiana and Arkansas have seen cases of police shooting alleged robbers as they fled and the surviving defendant(s) are charged with the death. Some states have wording within their felony murder laws that it can not be a co-conspirator death that results in a felony murder charge, it must be an unattached victim.
In February Christopher Ransom and Jagger Freeman were robbing a cell phone store, Jagger Freeman was the alleged lookout but Mr. Freeman is accused of being inside the store with the intent of theft. Intent to steal, not murder, to steal. One defendant, Christopher Ransom, allegedly aimed a plastic toy gun inside the store and police officers responded to the location.. The other, Jagger Freeman, allegedly only served as a lookout during the robbery attempt. The first two officers to respond withdrew when Ransom aimed the toy gun but another officer had arrived on scene and opened fire hitting both fellow officers and Ransom. Officer Gorman died of his injuries complements of his fellow officer.
In NY there is a defense against a felony murder charge and we expect to see this be the case with Jagger Freeman. The District Attorney office Spokesperson stated “The law recognizes, however, that in some cases a charge of (felony) murder may be unduly harsh for an accomplice who played a relatively small role in the underlying felony,” the spokesperson said. “Therefore the statute (P.L. 125.25 [a-d]) provides for an affirmative defense for a defendant that did not commit the homicidal act or have any reason to believe it would be committed and who was not armed with a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument and had no reason to believe any of the other participants were so armed. Frequently this raises a question of fact for the jury. As an affirmative defense, the burden is upon the defendant to prove it by a preponderance of the evidence.” but whether or not the District Attorney will attempt to thwart this remains to be seen. Freeman's attorney feels that his client may have known little about the alleged crime prior to its commission.
Mr. Ransom has told a couple different stories, one being that he intended to commit suicide by cop and in another statement stating that it was a prank gone wrong. Either way it was not Jagger Freeman wielding that toy gun.
In New York the felony murder law is disproportionately charged against young men of color as opposed to their white counterparts. “New York is moving progressively toward criminal justice reform and we’re making great strides, but we’re still in the Dark Ages when it comes to having the felony murder statute,” said Jamal Johnson, the director of Legal Aid’s Homicide Defense Task Force. “It’s a senseless law that makes it easier to convict young black and brown men of murder and put them in jail for rest of their lives.”
Felony murder is the only type of murder charge that does not require intent and very little culpability. If a felony is being committed and someone dies, even accidental/unintended anyone and everyone that a prosecutor can connect to that underlying felony is charged with felony murder which tends to carry harsher penalties than a second degree murder where someone intended to murder.
We hope that Mr. Freeman is exonerated of felony murder and he certainly has the small fragment of the only defense against it. Mr. Freeman can not be held accountable for the actions of Mr. Ransom waving around the toy gun nor should he be held accountable for the poor aim of a trigger happy officer.