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When Is a Death Considered ‘Murder?’

Two recent cases have emphasized the breadth of the legal definition. Patch wants to know what the word means to you.

“Murder” and “homicide” are loaded words that conjure images of malice and deliberate violence.

This month, though, the west metro has been reminded that that’s not always the case.

At the beginning of February, prosecutors charged Jonathan Markle with criminal vehicular homicide in connection with the drowning of his 9-month-old daughter. Prosecutors say Markle's blood alcohol level was .13 when his vehicle broke through the ice Jan. 18 after he tried to drive underneath the Halstead Bay Bridge on Lake Minnetonka.

Hennepin County Mike Freeman acknowledged that the legal system has "no penalty that can approach the grief and agony this man might feel by the death of his daughter at his own hand." But Freeman went on to say he wants this case to illustrate that "this conduct is simply not acceptable."

Then on Thursday, prosecutors charged 31-year-old Devon McFerrin with third-degree murder stemming from the heroin overdose of a Hopkins man. Investigators say McFerrin sold the man the heroin that killed him.

The law has specific requirements for what constitutes murder and homicide—but these don’t always match common usage.

Patch wants to know what you think of when you hear those words. When does a death cross the line from accidental to homicide or murder? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Caitlin Burgess (Editor) February 18, 2013 at 08:50 PM
On Richfield Patch's Facebook page: Diane Langhoff Jackson wrote: I have mixed emotions about this one! The Dad was being really stupid by crossing that ice, but...the death of his baby girl will haunt him for the rest of his lfe and it was a accident he didn't set out to kill his daughter so jail time is wrong in my oppinion! Rissa Pahl wrote: I don't think it's murder, it would be homicide which is a generalized term, including negligence, which in my opinion is what this is. And I know they are already hurting and will for the rest of their lives, but I still believe some sort of punishment is warranted. If nothing else, to show once again to people the dangers of drinking and driving. I honestly don't know what they were thinking. I think most people feel very badly for the whole family, but it's truly the little girl who suffered the most, and whose life ended way too soon.
Rachel Powell February 19, 2013 at 01:07 PM
To me, murder is any time someone dies at the hands of someone else who was either intentionally wanting to harm (ie firing a gun into a crowd of people) OR any time someone dies due to someone else's doing something illegal, such as drunk driving, speeding, or selling illegal drugs. But then I wonder if those should be manslaughter, where the person doesn't intend to harm but their actions cause death. This is a good question - something that needs discussing.
Shawn Aune February 19, 2013 at 07:05 PM
Very good question. The dad, Mr. Markle is punishing himself for the rest of his life. Letting him go absolutely free is the worse thing we could do to him. I wouldn't call that murder though. Murder is intentional death. If death was intended, it was murder. How about if an act is meant to kill but kills the wrong person? That qualifies too. Speaking of murder, does anybody care that Obama is murdering women and children in Pakistan to protect our, "freedom?" Does anybody realize that the same drones are now flying in our skies? How far do we really want to take this discussion?
Fabuladico February 19, 2013 at 09:19 PM
This was a tragedy from the get go. The man was driving while intoxicated with his wife and tow little ones on board. One would wonder why the wife didn't take over the driving unless she too was intoxicated. Either way, he had no business driving drunk especially with his kids in the car. But on the other hand, he certainly didn't intend or even foresee the possibility of killing his little girl. In fact, he probably drove across the ice thinking it was better than risking an acident on the road, but it did happen. I should imagine that his attorney will plea bargin to some sort of involuntary manslaughter charge, probably hinging on rehab. Either way this guy's life will never be the same again. if it were me, I'd get sick to my stomach even looking at alcohol again.
Mike B. February 20, 2013 at 01:31 AM
Usually, people who do stupid things, such as driving drunk on "questionable" ice, are teenagers, not middle-aged men as in this case. It would seem appropriate for an involuntary manslaughter charge. If convicted, about six months in jail would give the father plenty of time to think how he was responsible for his daughter's death. BTW, Mike Freeman must be aiming for a higher office. He has never met a camera he didn't like, much like Amy Klobucher, when she was in the atty's office. McFerrin, the drug pusher, is another story. That guy is a lowlife who (again, if convicted) should only be released when he is old and grey, if ever. The USA needs "Singapore-Style" laws for these drug pushers.
Rachel Powell February 20, 2013 at 01:52 AM
Well, one COULD argue that the murder of innocent civilians started with Bush's War on Terrorism, and Obama is just trying to clean up the mess left behind. But obviously you want to blame the current president and not the one who thought nothing of attacking a country totally NOT responsible for attacks on America and killing many thousands of innocent people, plus all of our brave soldiers he forced to stay longer than their call of duty. But you can blame whom you want.
Shawn Aune February 20, 2013 at 02:04 AM
@Rachel Powell It is not obvious from my statement that I believe Bush is blameless. You are making that assumption because I mention Obama. I believe that if an anti-Christ exists his name is George W Bush. I'm not a Christian though so I merely believe him to be an evil evil man. But really they are two sides of the same corrupt coin. The government merely shows us the face it believes we want to see. Don't be fooled. Please become post-partisan and recognize that both parties represent the same interests and those interests are not yours.
Rachel Powell February 20, 2013 at 01:16 PM
@ Shawn - Sorry - knee-jerk reaction when people mention "Obama's war" without mentioning Bush. It sounds to me like we're on the same page. Of course both parties are two sides of the same coin. And their best interests are not in the public in general. I am disillusioned by the whole government because they're so deep in Big Business' pockets there's no way out. I just wanted to make sure the blame started where it really began. You seem a thoughtful soul.
James Warden (Editor) February 20, 2013 at 07:49 PM
For those who are interested, the murder victim's sister has a great piece here about her brother's struggles and why his life was worthwhile: http://hopkins.patch.com/articles/a-sister-s-perspective It's beautifully written and very touching.
Shawn Aune February 21, 2013 at 02:39 PM
@Rachel Powell No apology necessary. Speaking of blame... http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2013/02/newly-released-memos-of-donald-rumsfeld-prove-knowing-iraq-war.html
Rachel Powell February 22, 2013 at 01:47 AM
not quite sure how they all got away without being charged with war crimes

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