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The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts holds that, in trials that commence after September 20, 2017, a defendant may not be convicted of murder without proof of one of the three prongs of malice. As a result, in the future, felony-murder is no longer an independent theory of liability for murder. Rather, felony-murder is limited to its statutory role under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 265, § 1, as an aggravating element of murder, permitting a jury to find a defendant guilty of murder in the first degree where the murder was committed in the course of a felony punishable by life imprisonment even if it was not committed with deliberate premeditation or with extreme atrocity or cruelty. This holding as to common-law felony-murder liability is prospective in effect.
The charges stem from an attempted armed robbery and home invasion of a townhouse shared by Hector and Tony Delgado. Two armed gunmen fatally shot the brothers during the botched robbery. The defendant, Timothy Brown, was not present at the scene. The Commonwealth alleged that Brown was liable as an accomplice to felony-murder because he supplied one of the gunmen with a pistol and provided hooded sweatshirts to the intruders to help them conceal their identities. A Superior Court jury convicted Brown of two counts of felony-murder in the first degree based on the predicate felonies of an attempted commission of armed robbery, home invasion, unlawful possession of a firearm, and unlawful possession of ammunition
Was Brown properly convicted of first-degree felony-murder?
The court held that the trial court properly convicted Brown of first-degree felony-murder based on the predicate felonies of attempted armed robbery, home invasion, unlawful possession of a firearm, and unlawful possession of ammunition because, after being in a vehicle with three friends who robbed two females, Brown and his friends returned to Brown’s apartment where he supplied them with a gun and hooded sweatshirts to help them avoid detection in another robbery. However, Brown’s conduct, as an individual who participated on the "remote outer fringes" of the joint venture, made verdicts of second-degree murder more consonant with justice.