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Premeditation is the essential element which distinguishes first degree murder from second-degree murder. Premeditation is defined as more than a mere intent to kill; it is a fully formed conscious purpose to kill. This purpose to kill may be formed a moment before the act but must exist for a sufficient length of time to permit reflection as to the nature of the act to be committed and the probable result of that act.
Michael Thomas Coolen was convicted of first-degree murder in a stabbing death. The jury recommended the death sentence, and the trial court followed that recommendation. Coolen appealed.
Was there sufficient evidence to support a first-degree murder conviction?
The court reversed the conviction because the evidence was insufficient to support it. Although the evidence was consistent with an unlawful killing, there was insufficient evidence to prove premeditation. The testimony of eyewitnesses was contradictory and neither provided sufficient evidence of premeditation. Because the evidence was insufficient to prove premeditation, the court reversed the conviction for first degree murder and vacated the death sentence. It also rejected Coolen's other guilt phase claims as being without merit. Having reversed the first degree murder conviction, however, the court did not reach any of the claims relating to the penalty phase of the proceeding. The court concluded that there was sufficient evidence of second degree murder. Thus, it remanded the case to the trial court with instructions to enter a judgment of second degree murder and to sentence defendant accordingly.