EJI attorneys recently argued that the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals should order a new trial for death row prisoner Mark Brown because the judge illegally instructed the jury that it could find Mr. Brown guilty of capital murder even if he did not intend to kill the victims.
Under Alabama law, a person cannot be convicted of capital murder or subjected to the death penalty unless he specifically intends to kill the victim. Mr. Brown participated in a robbery along with two other co-defendants that resulted in the deaths of four people. However, there were serious questions raised at trial as to what role Mr. Brown played in the offense in relation to his co-defendants.
At trial, Mr. Brown accepted responsibility for participating in the robbery but he argued that he never intended for the victims to die, that he did not personally kill them, and that he was therefore guilty of a lesser form of murder rather than capital murder. The trial judge, who was presiding over his first capital murder trial, incorrectly told the jury that it could find Mr. Brown guilty of capital murder even if he did not personally intend to kill the victims, as long as one of his co-defendants possessed the intent to kill. This instruction was a clear misstatement of Alabama law.
The trial judge made a similar mistake in the penalty phase when it gave improper instructions on how to determine whether Mr. Brown should be sentenced to death or life without parole.
EJI attorneys contend that Mr. Brown is entitled to a new trial because these instructions violated his rights and wrongly led the jury to convict him of capital murder and to recommend a death sentence.