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Part IV, Para. 4c, Manual for Courts-Martial (1984) provides that preparation consists of devising or arranging the means or measures necessary for the commission of the offense. The overt act required goes beyond preparatory steps and is a direct movement toward the commission of the offense. A person who purposely engages in conduct which would constitute the offense if the attendant circumstances were as that person believed them to be is guilty of an attempt. Soliciting another to commit an offense does not constitute an attempt.
Defendant Senior Airman William M. Church hired a person to kill his wife. Unbeknownst to the defendant, he was contracting with an undercover agent. During the course of their transaction, defendant provided the agent with pictures of his wife, a spiral notebook containing a list of people who lived in the house and hours they were away from home, two detailed diagrams of the house and surrounding area, and other details necessary to execute the attempted murder of the wife. Defendant indicated the manner on how he wanted his wife shot. Defendant and agent settled on a total price of $2,100.00 if the murder of the wife was successful. Subsequently, defendant was found guilty, before a general court-martial with members, of the attempted premeditated murder of his wife in violation of art. 80, Unif. Code Mil. Justice. He appealed the finding and sentence on the ground that the evidence was not sufficient to support the findings of guilty of attempted murder. Defendant argued that his conduct never passed the threshold from mere preparation (i.e., a solicitation) to an attempt to commit the offense because there was no “dangerous proximity” to success of the planned murder.
Under the circumstances, could the defendant be found guilty of attempted murder?
Applying the principles set forth in Part IV, Para. 4, Manual for Courts-Martial (1984), the court affirmed the findings and sentence. Defendant's conduct in obtaining the services of the undercover agent to murder his wife, his detailed participation in planning the intended crime, up to advising the agent exactly how he wanted his wife shot, and his payment of the agreed upon consideration, both before the crime was to occur and after he was apprised that it had, constituted a substantial step toward the commission of the crime, and established the requisite overt act amounting to more than mere participation.