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Penal Law § 125.25(3) provides that a person is guilty of murder in the second degree if he or she commits or attempts to commit one of ten enumerated felonies, and, in the course of and in furtherance of such crime causes the death of another. The felony murder statute includes, in its list of predicate felonies, the crime of burglary. To establish the crime of burglary, it must be shown that the defendant knowingly enters or remains unlawfully in a building with intent to commit a crime therein. (Penal Law § 140.20).
Appellant William Henderson, with his cousin and a friend, broke into an apartment looking for individuals whom they suspected that robbed them of drugs and money they kept in an associate's nearby apartment. When appellant broke down the door to the apartment, the suspected thieves were not inside. Rather, the victim and his girlfriend were in an upstairs bedroom. A fight between them ensued but appellant and the other men ran out of the apartment when they heard police sirens. However, appellant returned to the apartment with a knife in his hand. The victim told his girlfriend to run, and as she ran out of the apartment, she heard glass shattering that had been broken over the victim's head. Appellant fled the apartment but were arrested. Emergency Medical Technicians tried but failed to resuscitate the victim, and he was pronounced dead. Defendant was convicted of felony murder, first-degree manslaughter, first-degree burglary, two counts of second-degree burglary, and second-degree assault. On appeal, the Appellate Division rejected defendant's argument that the evidence of felony murder was legally insufficient because the predicate burglary is based upon his conceded intent to commit an assault.
Was there sufficient proof to support defendant's conviction for felony murder, based upon the underlying predicate felony of burglary?
The court affirmed the judgment. The court held that a rational trier of fact could conclude that, based upon appellant’s own statements, defendant committed the crime of burglary when he entered the apartment with the intent to assault the victim and during that burglary appellant caused the victim's death. Moreover, the court held that there was legally sufficient evidence of felony murder (Penal Law § 125.25(3)) when appellant unlawfully entered the victim's apartment with the singular intent to assault him but caused his death as the court ruled that there was a clear logical nexus between appellant’s felony of unlawfully entering the victim's apartment to assault him and the homicide, which was certainly not coincidental. Thus, if it were to limit the "in furtherance of" element to murders that promote or advance the felony, as appellant suggested, would exclude from felony murder a large class of murders, a result the Legislature could not have possibly intended.