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The wrongful act triggering criminal liability for second degree murder is "killing" or "causing the death" of another. The second degree murder statute is aimed at preventing an individual from actively causing the death of someone contemplating suicide, whereas the assisting suicide statute is aimed at preventing an individual from providing someone contemplating suicide with the means to commit suicide. Thus, the two statutes do not condemn the same offense. The rule of statutory construction that the specific law controls over the general is not applicable in this instance.
After defendant, Billy LeRoy Sexson, Jr., and his wife, Debra Marie Sexson, entered into a mutual suicide pact, evidenced by a suicide note, the wife died by gunshot wound. Defendant turned himself in to the police, admitting that he had held the gun in place while the wife pulled the trigger. Defendant was convicted of second-degree murder. Defendant appealed, arguing that he should have been prosecuted for assisting suicide instead of murder. According to defendant, the evidence was not sufficient to support a conviction of second-degree murder and that the finding of the existence of a genuine suicide pact exempted him from a murder conviction.
Under the circumstances, should the defendant have been prosecuted for assisting suicide instead of murder?
The court affirmed defendant’s conviction for second-degree murder, holding that the evidence was sufficient to support his conviction. The court rejected defendant's contention that assisting suicide was subsumed in the second-degree murder charge, noting that the two crimes did not encompass the same offense. The wrongful act constituting second degree murder was killing or causing the death of another, as opposed to providing someone else with the means to commit suicide. Here, medical evidence and statements defendant made to police supported the conclusion that defendant pulled the trigger. Further, the suicide pact was not an exception to the distinction between murder and assisting suicide unless the means of suicide presented the same risk to both parties at the same time. In this case, the suicide and attempted suicide were not committed simultaneously by the same act and the risk of death was not identical to both parties.