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Brackett v. Peters - 11 F.3d 78 (7th Cir. 1993)


An act is a cause of an event if two conditions are satisfied: the event would not have occurred without the act; the act made the event more likely.


Brackett (Petitioner-appellant), raped and severely beaten an 85-year-old widow, Mrs. Winslow. She was admitted to the hospital with a broken arm, a broken rib, and
extensive bruises. During her stay in the hospital, which lasted several weeks, she was described as feisty before the rape and beating. After the assault, she became depressed, resisted efforts to feed her, and became progressively weaker. Transferred to a nursing home, she continued to deteriorate, even though her
physical injuries were healing. Her appetite was very poor. Her doctor ordered a nasal gastric feeding tube for her, but the tube could not be inserted, in part because facial injuries inflicted by Brackett made insertion of the tube too painful. About 10 days after her admission to the nursing home, Mrs. Winslow died. The trial court found Brackett guilt of felony murder. Brackett challenged the trial court's denial of a petition for federal habeas corpus from his felony murder conviction, claiming that there were intervening actions that caused the victim's death, and therefore, no rational trier of fact could have found that Brackett had caused the death of his victim.


Was Brackett’s assault on Mrs. Winslow the cause of her death?




The court affirmed the denial of the petition. The court held that there was sufficient evidence for a trier of fact to find that appellant's assault made the victim's death more likely and that, but for the assault, the victim would not have died as soon as she did. The assault appeared to have precipitated the victim's rapid decline in health, and the fact that a normal person would not have had such a reaction as death did not excuse appellant. The court held that a rational trier of fact could have found that appellant's felonies caused the death of victim. The death must be caused by the felony; for remember that "cause" in law means not just but-for
cause but also an enhancement of the likelihood (what in law is often called "foreseeability") that the class of events would occur.

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