Manslaughter For A Man’s Slaughter

Manslaughter_0216_KurtlandMa

Andre Davids was sentenced to just 12 years of state prison after stabbing, disemboweling, mutilating and stuffing his boyfriend Kurtland Ma in West Hollywood on March 29, 2014.

BY DAVID HAKIMFAR, ATTORNEY AT LAW

Andre Davids (L), Kurtland Ma

Andre Davids (L), Kurtland Ma

Of all of the crimes out there, homicide is perhaps the most serious. It is the only criminal act where the consequences to the guilty person may be equally as severe as his actions to the victim.

But in the case of convicted killer Andre Davids, many are asking why Davids was convicted of the lesser crime of manslaughter instead of murder, and why, after a long, gut-wrenching trial, he was sentenced to just 12 years by a jury of his peers.

THE CRIMINAL ACT

It is undisputed that just before Ma’s killing, Davids ingested prescription drugs and was told by Ma the relationship was over. According to Lt. John Corina of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, it appeared to be “a crime of passion where … one boyfriend wasn’t as faithful to the other. The other one got upset.”

Upset is an understatement. Ma’s body was stabbed about 40 times and was “disemboweled,” with his own organs stuffed into his mouth, along with pills and pill bottles shoved into his body cavity. Davids claimed that he killed Ma in a sudden decision after Ma wanted to end the relationship.

Davids’ attorneys argued that the crime was one of passion, and that the jury should decide on a manslaughter charge instead of murder. They also said his judgment was impaired because he ingested drugs.  For many, it has been very hard to accept that Davids wasn’t convicted of murder.

THE CRIMINAL CHARGES

At trial, the prosecution charged Davids with homicide charges of (1) murder and (2) manslaughter.  Murder in California may be prosecuted in the first degree or second degree. First degree murder is the more serious of the two charges and California law defines second degree murder as all murders that do not qualify as first degree murder.  The common thread of first and second degree murder is that California law requires the prosecution to prove that Davids exhibited express (deliberate) or implied (abandoned and malignant heart) malice.

A killing that would otherwise be murder is reduced to voluntary manslaughter if the defendant killed someone because of a sudden quarrel or in the heat of passion.  California’s voluntary manslaughter jury instructions are exceedingly clear: 570. Voluntary Manslaughter: Heat of Passion—Lesser Included Offense.

A killing that would otherwise be murder is reduced to voluntary manslaughter if the defendant killed someone because of a sudden quarrel or in the heat of passion.

The defendant killed someone because of a sudden quarrel or in the heat of passion if:

The defendant was provoked;

As a result of the provocation, the defendant acted rashly and under the influence of intense emotion that obscured (his/her) reasoning or judgment; and

The provocation would have caused a person of average disposition to act rashly and without due deliberation, that is, from passion rather than from judgment.

AVERAGE DISPOSITION

Heat of passion does not require anger, rage, or any specific emotion. It can be any violent or intense emotion that causes a person to act without due deliberation and reflection.

In order for heat of passion to reduce a murder to voluntary manslaughter, the defendant must have acted under the direct and immediate influence of provocation as I have defined it. While no specific type of provocation is required, slight or remote provocation is not sufficient. Sufficient provocation may occur over a short or long period of time.

It is not enough that the defendant simply was provoked. The defendant is not allowed to set up (his/her) own standard of conduct. You must decide whether the defendant was provoked and whether the provocation was sufficient. In deciding whether the provocation was sufficient, consider whether a person of average disposition would have been provoked and how such a person would react in the same situation knowing the same facts…”

HARD TO ACCEPT

Davids’ attorneys argued that the crime was one of passion, and that the jury should decide on a manslaughter charge instead of murder. They also said his judgment was impaired because he ingested drugs.  For many, it has been very hard to accept that Davids wasn’t convicted of murder.

However, for Los Angeles criminal defense attorney Negin Yamini, the outcome in Davids case was not unpredictable. “Since Davids was on prescription drugs, it may have affected his ability to make logical decisions. The drugs compounded with Ma’s news of his desire to end the relationship could stir up quite a bit of emotion. Therefore, a jury could reasonably see this as unplanned, and as a crime of passion. The jury believed Davids acted in the heat of the moment. It was not a murder, it was manslaughter. Like it or not, I believe the jury got it right with respect to applying the facts to the law.”

THE CRIMINAL SENTENCE

It’s important to understand that prosecutors rarely file voluntary manslaughter as a separate charge from murder. Manslaughter is a charge that commonly comes up in murder cases, where the accused person has admitted to killing the victim, but seeks avoid a murder conviction.  If the accused is convicted of voluntary manslaughter, he or she faces a maximum of 11 years in prison. With murder, by contrast, the person faces a potential life sentence… or sometimes execution.

California Penal Code Section 193(a) provides as follows: “Voluntary manslaughter is punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for 3, 6 or 11 years.”

The Court sentenced Davids to the longest possible sentence for the crime he was accused of.

California law could have found Davids guilty of first degree murder if the People proved that Ma was murdered by torture.
California law finds torture if there is (1) premeditation to inflict pain on the victim, (2) a sadistic intention, and (3) the intent for the torture to be the cause death.

ANOTHER MURDER TRIAL?

Understandably many in the community are outraged at what is perceived as an extremely light sentence such an horrific act—and there are those who are calling for another murder trail. This is not possible.

The Founding Fathers of our country inscribed the Double Jeopardy Clause within the Fifth Amendment of the United State Constitution.  This Clause provides that no person shall “be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb.”  Two essential protections of the Double Jeopardy Clause are retrials after certain mistrials, and multiple punishment.

CIVIL ACTION

The estate of Kurtland Ma have the ability to pursue damages for his intentional and/or wrongful death.  Davids’ liability is virtually without doubt and the monetary value for the loss of Ma could go into multiple millions of dollars.

However, without any knowledge of what Andre Davids’ has or doesn’t have, it will be their call in deciding if it will be worth the time, energy, and resources in obtaining a paper judgment that will always remain unpayable by Davids.

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