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Law School Case Brief

People v. Brackett - 117 Ill. 2d 170, 109 Ill. Dec. 809, 510 N.E.2d 877 (1987)

Rule:

There are often cases in which the precise manner of death will not be foreseeable to the defendant while he is committing a felony. This does not relieve the defendant of responsibility. There are cases where the immediate cause of death was meningitis, or pneumonia, or a heart condition. In each of these cases the defendant's felonious acts contributed to the victim's demise, and in each of these cases the defendant could not foresee the exact manner in which the victim would die.

Facts:

Defendant Randy Brackett was originally charged in Illinois state court with the rape, deviate sexual assault and aggravated battery of Mrs. Elizabeth Winslow. Approximately five weeks after the events giving rise to the charges, Mrs. Winslow died. Brackett was then additionally charged with four counts of murder. Pursuant to Brackett's motion, the murder charges were severed from the original charges and separate bench trials were held. Brackett was convicted of rape and aggravated battery at the first trial. He was subsequently convicted of murder and sentenced to an extended term of 60 years' imprisonment. His separate appeals were consolidated in the appellate court, which affirmed the murder convictions and vacated the rape and aggravated battery convictions. The Supreme Court of Illinois allowed Brackett's petition for leave to appeal.

Issue:

Was Brackett's murder conviction proper even if he did not foresee that his victim, Mrs. Winslow, would die from asphyxiation?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The court affirmed the judgments from the trial and appellate courts, holding that there was sufficient evidence to prove that Brackett's attack on Mrs. Winslow set in motion a chain of events that caused her death. The court stated that Mrs. Winslow's injuries affected her ability to breathe and to swallow and prevented the use of a feeding tube. The court concluded that Brackett did not have to foresee that his victim would die from asphyxiation in order to be convicted. Given the disparity in size and strength between Brackett and Mrs. Winslow and the fact that he battered her with enough force to break her bones, the court rejected his argument that he did not know that his acts could create a strong possibility of death or great bodily harm.

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