United States v. Croft

In United States v. Croft, 124 F.3d 1109 (9th Cir. 1997), certain members of a spiritual community in Oregon determined that it was necessary to assassinate a number of the community's enemies, including Charles Turner, Oregon's U.S. Attorney. A "hit team" was subsequently formed to kill Turner, and Sally-Anne Croft was designated to supply the team with money for weapons and passports. Although handguns were purchased and surveillance on Turner was initiated, the plan eventually unraveled and no attempt was made on Turner's life. Sometime thereafter, federal and state law enforcement officials learned of the plan and the conspirators were indicted. Five of the conspirators agreed to testify against Croft and another co-conspirator in exchange for plea agreements. After a month-long trial and four days of deliberation, a jury convicted Croft and her co-defendant of conspiracy to commit murder in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1111, 1114, and 1117. On appeal to the Ninth Circuit, Croft challenged the adequacy of the district court's intent instruction, which provided: The United States Code provides in pertinent part that murder is the unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought . . . In order to find that either defendant is guilty of the offense of conspiring to murder the United States Attorney, the government must prove each of the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt: First, . . . there was an agreement between two or more persons to kill then United States Attorney Charles Turner with malice aforethought. Second, the defendant willfully became a member of the conspiracy, knowing of its objectives and specifically intending to help accomplish the murder of . . . Turner. A person only becomes a member of an unlawful conspiracy if she willingly participates in the unlawful agreement with the intent to advance the objective of the conspiracy, even though that person may not have knowledge of all of the details of the conspiracy. The term "willfully" . . . means to act or participate voluntarily and intentionally and with specific intent to help accomplish the murder of . . . Turner. Croft, 124 F.3d at 1122 Croft argued that, inter alia, murder as defined by 18 U.S.C. 1111(a) requires a premeditation element that was not contained in the instruction. Id. The Ninth Circuit responded: Section 1111(a) . . . encompasses both first- and second-degree murder. The indictment in this case included no element of premeditation; it accordingly alleged only second-degree murder as the object of the conspiracy. See United States v. Harrelson, 754 F.2d 1153, 1174 (5th Cir. 1985). Although our circuit has not yet addressed the question, the Fifth Circuit has held that it is logically possible to conspire to commit second-degree murder. United States v. Chagra, 807 F.2d 398, 401-02 (5th Cir. 1986). We accept that view, and conclude that the indictment here alleged that crime. As a consequence, it was not error for the district court to omit the element of premeditation in its instructions. (124 F.3d at 1122-23.)