Is Killing of Grandparents by a Minor Considered First Degree Murder or Second Degree Murder ?
In People v. Morgan, 197 Ill. 2d 404, 448-50, 758 N.E.2d 813, 259 Ill. Dec. 405 (2001), our supreme court held that "where the acts constituting forcible felonies arise from and are inherent in the act of murder itself, those acts cannot serve as predicate felonies for a charge of felony murder." Morgan, 197 Ill. 2d at 447.
The Morgan defendant, who was 14 years old at the time, was convicted of second degree murder for shooting his grandfather and first degree murder for shooting his grandmother.
The trial court had instructed the jury on first degree intentional and knowing murder, and first degree felony murder.
The supreme court determined that the predicate felonies of aggravated battery and aggravated discharge of a firearm "arose from and were inherent in the murders" of the defendant's grandparents and, therefore, the jury should not have been instructed that the defendant could be convicted of first degree murder on a felony-murder theory. Morgan, 197 Ill. 2d at 447-48.
However, the supreme court in Morgan found that the trial court's error in instructing the jury on felony murder did not constitute reversible error.
The court noted that while defendant was charged with intentional, knowing and felony murder, a general verdict was entered finding defendant guilty of murder.
Such a general verdict raised the presumption that the jury found the defendant committed the most serious crime alleged: intentional or knowing murder. Morgan, 197 Ill. 2d at 448.
The supreme court also noted that it could presume that the jury, found the defendant guilty of intentional or knowing murder rather than felony murder based on the fact that the jury found the defendant guilty of the second degree murder of his grandfather.
The court explained that second degree murder instructions were given only on the charges of intentional or knowing murder and not on the felony-murder charges.
Consequently, in convicting the defendant of second degree murder, the jury must have believed the defendant was guilty of the intentional or knowing murder of his grandfather, but that one of the mitigating factors set forth in the second degree murder statute was present.
The jury therefore rejected the State's felony-murder theory as to the grandfather.
The supreme court further reasoned that had the jury believed that the defendant was guilty of first degree felony murder with regard to the grandmother, it would have followed that the defendant was guilty of first degree felony murder with regard to the grandfather where the charges were identical. Morgan, 197 Ill. 2d at 451.