Cole Wilkins was convicted of first degree murder in connection with a burglary committed in July, 2006. In 2013, the California Supreme Court reversed that conviction based on an incomplete jury charge. See, People v. Wilkins, 56 Cal. 4 (2013). Although the Supreme Court stated that there was sufficient evidence to retry him, recently a lower court dismissed the charge of first degree murder based on the misconduct of the police and prosecutors in the case- the decision does not prevent the state from retrying Wilkins on the charge of murder in the second degree.
On September 6, 2017 the jury deliberated several hours before convicting Wilkins of second degree murder. In California, murder in the first and second degree both require a showing of ‘malice aforethought’. The malice required for first degree murder may be either express or implied. In Wilkins’ case, the state had proved implied malice because a death had occurred during the commission of a felony.
The rule of felony murder is a legal doctrine that broadens the crime of first degree murder when a homicide occurs during the commission of a felony. The rule exists in most states and in earlier times applied to the commission of any crime, however trivial. The commission of a crime provides the necessary mens rea, or specific intent, to any unintended and results in murder. Today, the rule is generally applied to dangerous or specifically enumerated crimes in the codes of the various states. The purpose of this rule is to deter felons by providing strict liability for any accidental or negligent death caused during the commission of the crime.
Wilkins committed a burglary at a Menifee, CA job site stealing numerous appliances and fixtures that had recently been purchased for a home under construction. Prior to leaving the area, Wilkins neglected to close the tailgate or secure the large items that were in the back of the pick-up truck he was operating. After travelling about 60 miles, an unsecured stove – stolen from the construction site – fell out of the truck resulting in the death of an off duty deputy sheriff.
Because the negligent act – failure to secure the load – occurred at the scene of the burglary, that act was found to be the proximate cause of the death that occurred 60 miles later.