The Illinois Supreme Court has repeatedly held that a finding of specific intent to kill is a necessary element of the crime of attempted murder.
A man and his girlfriend got into an argument. During the argument, the boyfriend spilled gasoline on his girlfriend, and the gasoline on her body ignited. The boyfriend smothered the flames with a coat but his girlfriend had already obtained third degree burns over 70% of her body. The couple were the only eyewitnesses to the incident. The trial court convicted the boyfriend of attempted murder and aggravated battery. The case was appealed to the Appellate Court of Illinois on the ground that the jury was not properly instructed on the intent necessary for attempted murder.
Was the jury properly instructed?
The Court held that although defendant failed to object at trial to the jury instruction regarding the intent necessary for attempted murder, the specific intent to kill was an essential element of the crime of attempted murder. Thus, a new trial was required. The alleged error affected defendant's substantial rights, and the court reviewed the issue under the plain error doctrine. The trial court had defined the crime of murder, including all four culpable mental states. The court held that the jury was misinstructed. The trial court was required, when it instructed the jury on the crime of attempted murder, to make it clear that specific intent to kill was the pivotal element of that offense, and that intent to do bodily harm or knowledge that the consequences of defendant's act could result in death or great bodily harm was not enough. Defendant was prejudiced by the inclusion of the alternative states of mind in the definitional murder instruction, which was fundamental error.