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Law School Case Brief

State v. Mayle - 178 W. Va. 26, 357 S.E.2d 219 (1987)


W. Va. Code § 61-2-1 (1984) provides that murder by poison, lying in wait, imprisonment, starving, or by any willful, deliberate and premeditated killing, or in the commission of, or attempt to commit, arson, rape, robbery or burglary, is murder of the first degree. The state is not required in a felony murder case to prove any specific intent to kill, premeditation, or malice. Instead, the elements which the state is required to prove to obtain a conviction of felony murder are: (1) the commission of, or attempt to commit, one or more of the enumerated felonies; (2) the defendant's participation in such commission or attempt; and (3) the death of the victim as a result of injuries received during the course of such commission or attempt.


Two men entered a McDonald's restaurant in Chesapeake, Ohio. The pair demanded that the employees give them the combination to the safe. The employees did not know the combination, so the robbers took the keys to one of the employee's cars, a 1972 Matador, and left in the stolen car. Approximately one-half hour after the Ohio robbery, Officer Byard of the Huntington Police Department observed a possible breaking and entering by two men at a gasoline station. He notified Officer Harman, a few blocks away, who later indicated over the radio, "I've got 'em over here." A few minutes later, Officer Byard heard a gunshot and started running to Harman's aid. He heard more gunshots and saw two men running west. Officer Harman had been fatally wounded by several hard blows to the head and five gunshot wounds from his service revolver. Officer Byard observed the men getting into a green Buick and leaving the scene. The car was registered in the name of Bobby Stacy and contained a tape deck and tapes stolen from the Matador in Ohio, a black ski mask, and the deceased officer's gun. Defendant Wilbert Mayle's fingerprints were also found on the steering wheel. An analysis of hair samples found in two ski masks (the one found in the car and another found near the car) revealed that one mask had hair consistent with Mayle's hair and the other had hair consistent with both Stacy's and Mayle's. After trial in West Virginia state court, the jury found Mayle guilty of first-degree murder, with a recommendation of mercy. Mayle appealed.


Was the conviction proper?




The court affirmed Mayle's felony murder conviction. The court held that a photograph showing the scene where Officer Harman was killed was properly admitted, that the trial court did not limit cross-examination of a witness and that Mayle had shown no prejudice by the delay of two years before his trial transcript was supplied to him. The court further held that there was no abuse of the trial court's discretion in refusing individual voir dire, that the trial court properly refused Mayle's request for a mistrial on the basis that the jury was threatened, and that a hearsay statement by Stacy to his girlfriend was made in furtherance of the criminal conspiracy and, therefore, was properly admitted. The court finally held that the state proved felony murder because a felony was unquestionably committed, Mayle's participation in such commission or attempt was also satisfactorily proved, and there was sufficient evidence to support the jury's determination that Officer Harman was killed during the commission of the felony.

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