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While mere presence at a crime scene, considered alone or in combination with a refusal to interfere, is insufficient to support a conviction, the broad concept of aiding and abetting plainly encompasses acts that could be construed as encouragement or its derivation. Mere encouragement is enough. Encouragement is the equivalent of conduct that by any means countenances or approves the criminal action of another. "Countenances or approves" includes encouraging or exciting a criminal act by words, gestures, looks, or signs.
Appellant Norma Barnum stood and watched while three other girls assaulted Candis West. At some point, appellant, who was laughing during the entire beating, yelled that they should kill Candis and run her over with a van. Appellant was charged and convicted of first-degree assault under an accomplice liability theory. On appeal, appellant argued that because she did not actively participate in the planning or actual beating of Candis, and because the attackers did not act directly on the suggestions she shouted during the attack, the evidence was insufficient to support her conviction of first-degree assault.
Under the circumstances, could appellant be convicted of first-degree assault, notwithstanding the fact that she did not directly participate on the beating of the victim?
The Court affirmed the conviction of the appellant, holding that while appellant’s role in the assault was largely passive, she was present for the planning of the assault and she encouraged those actually beating the victim. According to the Court, the doctrine of accomplice liability embodied in Mo. Rev. Stat. § 562.041.1(2) comprehended any of a potentially wide variety of actions intended by an individual to assist another in criminal conduct. The evidence need not show that a defendant personally committed every element of the crime. In this case, general encouragement and a complete failure to aid the victim in any way were sufficient to convict under the accomplice theory.