The Difference Between Murder and Manslaughter

           Florida law defines the crime of second-degree murder as "the unlawful killing of a human being, when perpetrated by any act imminently dangerous to another and evincing a depraved mind regardless of human life, although without any premeditated design to effect the death of any particular individual."

 

          Manslaughter, on the other hand, is defined as "the killing of a human being by the act, procurement, or culpable negligence of another, without lawful justification . . . and in cases in which such killing shall not be excusable homicide or murder."

 

          In the case of James Poole versus the State of Florida, Mr. Poole was charged with the first-degree murder of Darryl Newsome, one of Poole's drinking buddies.  The facts of this case are as follows:

          

          "Newsome had no fixed address, and his acquaintances referred to him as a 'floater.' Newsome was a large man; he was six feet tall, weighed 273 pounds, and was very strong. Newsome also had a reputation for violence, especially after he had consumed alcohol or drugs

 

          Newsome, Poole, and several other men were regular visitors at the recreational vehicle where Jerry Headley lived in Tampa. Newsome frequently bullied Headley. Headley had cancer, and he was debilitated as a result of his illness.

 

          On the afternoon of October 17, 2007, Newsome, G.M., and one or two other men had gathered at Headley's recreational vehicle. The recreational vehicle was quite small, and the men congregated outside drinking beer and whiskey. Before the incident that led to his death, Newsome had also been smoking crack cocaine.

 

          Poole arrived at Headley's recreational vehicle when it was beginning to get dark. The drinking continued. G.M. complained to Poole that Newsome had taken Headley's electric fan. G.M. was lying on the ground because of the effects of his intoxication. Newsome began to kick G.M. in the back and told him that he was going to beat him. Poole cautioned Newsome to leave G.M. alone because G.M. 'was too drunk to even mess with.'  Next, Newsome went inside Headley's recreational vehicle. Taking advantage of Newsome's retreat, G.M. wisely followed Poole's advice to leave.

 

          Later in the evening, all of the men had left the area except Headley and Poole. The two men were inside Headley's recreational vehicle watching a football game on television. Newsome suddenly returned a few minutes after he had departed and sat down inside the recreational vehicle. The incident that led to Newsome's death quickly followed. Thus the only witnesses to the killing of Newsome were Headley and Poole. For some unexplained reason, Headley did not testify at trial. For this reason, Poole provided the only evidence concerning what led to Newsome's death.

 

          According to Poole, when Newsome returned to the recreational vehicle, he was visibly angry. Newsome sat in a chair with his fists balled up, his eyes as 'big as half dollars,' and moving his lips but not saying anything. Poole had armed himself with a steak knife from Headley's kitchen because he was afraid Newsome was going to hurt either him or Headley. Newsome was a larger man than Poole. Poole was afraid of Newsome; he believed that he would not be able to defeat Newsome in a fight.

 

          Suddenly, Newsome got up and lunged at Poole in the cramped confines of the recreational vehicle.  (Poole later told detectives that he believed Newsome was getting ready to attack either him or Headley.)  Poole removed the steak knife from his pocket and stabbed Newsome once. Poole testified that when Newsome got up and lunged at him he was in fear that Newsome was going to harm him because Newsome was still angry about the earlier incident when Poole had told Newsome to break off his attack on the obviously-intoxicated G.M. Poole said that he was motivated by fear for his own safety, not hatred of Newsome or a wish to kill him. However, there was no evidence that Newsome was armed.

 

          Poole's single strike with the knife punctured Newsome's heart and the left side of his diaphragm.  Newsome survived long enough to stagger out of the recreational vehicle to a pay phone at a nearby convenience store. Newsome used the phone and apparently called 911. After he had used the pay phone, Newsome collapsed in the convenience store parking lot. Two Hillsborough County Sheriff's deputies who were conducting an unrelated surveillance operation saw Newsome and came to his aid. Newsome soon died as a result of internal hemorrhaging resulting from the stab wound.

 

          Meanwhile, Poole and Headley remained in the recreational vehicle and awaited the arrival of law enforcement officers. The sheriff's deputies who responded to the scene described both men as having the odor of alcoholic beverages about their persons. Later, a toxicology screen performed on Newsome by the medical examiner showed an alcohol level of .06 percent in his blood and was also positive for the presence of cocaine."

 

           After hearing this evidence, the jury in Mr. Poole's case found him guilty of second-degree murder although he was originally charged with first-degree murder.  Poole appealed that verdict on the basis that the evidence presented by the prosecutor was insufficient to support a conviction for second-degree murder.  The appellate court deciding his case agreed but found that the evidence was sufficient to support a conviction for manslaughter.  Florida's Second District Court of Appeal stated:

 

          "The evidence showed that Newsome and Poole had socialized and drunk together for several years. On the day Newsome was killed, both men had been drinking with Headley and other men at Headley's recreational vehicle. Later in the evening, Headley and Poole were alone with Newsome inside the small recreational vehicle. Newsome, who had also been smoking crack cocaine, was apparently still angry about Poole's earlier intervention on behalf of G.M. Without warning, Newsome lunged at Poole in an apparent attack. Poole, who had nowhere to retreat, lashed out once at Newsome with the knife. Unfortunately, Poole's single blow mortally wounded Newsome.

 

          Newsome was unarmed, and it did not appear that he was aware that Poole had previously armed himself with a knife. Thus Poole's act of stabbing Newsome through the heart appears excessive, and the jury could reasonably reject his theory of self-defense. However, the prosecutor failed to prove that Poole acted out of ill will, hatred, spite, or an evil intent showing the depraved mind essential to establish second-degree murder. Instead, Poole stabbed Newsome because he 'knew [Newsome] was fixing to get me.' Thus the evidence showed an impulsive overreaction by Poole to Newsome's attack that warrants a conviction for manslaughter but not second-degree murder."

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