A conviction for murder of the third degree is supportable under an accomplice theory where it is shown that the accomplice acted with the culpable mental state required of a principal actor, namely, malice.
A victim was lured to an apartment complex, where he was ambushed, shot, and mortally wounded. Although defendant participated with others in orchestrating the events, he did not shoot the victim. Defendant was charged with multiple offenses, including murder in the third degree (MTD). under an accomplice theory. After a bench trial, he was found guilty. On appeal, the Superior Court affirmed upon finding that the complicity theory applied, even if homicide was not the intended underlying crime, where the intentional acts showed a disregard for human life amounting to malice. The case was further appealed to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.
Can an accomplice be charged and convicted of murder?
The Court found no merit to defendant's claim that it was theoretically impossible to hold an accomplice criminally liable for a result requiring a mental state of recklessness. Rather, the conviction for MTD was supportable under complicity theory where the Commonwealth proved that defendant acted with the culpable mental state of malice that was required of a principal actor. It therefore concluded that the Pennsylvania Crimes Code legally, logically, and rationally imposed accomplice liability for depraved heart murder.