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Monday, July 27, 2009
The Next Opponent for Forrest's Killers: A Felony Murder Charge

Death Penalty Looms as Possibility for Killers of Former Welterweight and Junior Middleweight Champion Under Georgia’s Felony Murder Laws

The emotionally fragile boxing community, still nursing its wounds from the recent untimely deaths of retired legends Alexis Arguello and Arturo Gatti, was rocked again on the night of Saturday, July 26, 2009 when 1992 U.S. Olympian, and former welterweight and junior middleweight champion Vernon Forrest was shot to death in Atlanta, Georgia after a gun battle with two individuals who reportedly robbed Forrest at a gas station. In the end, Forrest perished the way he fought; standing and trading fire like the champion that he was. Although no suspects had been apprehended as of the date of this posting, the die is already cast for the next bout of his assailants: a showdown with the People of the State of Georgia for their lives.

Georgia Law on Felony Murder and the Relevant Component Offenses

Under Section 16-5-1(c) of the Georgia Annotated Code, “[a] person commits the offense of murder when, in the commission of a felony, he causes the death of another human being irrespective of malice.” Section 16-4-1(d) mandates that “[a] person convicted of the offense of murder shall be punished by death, by imprisonment for life without parole, or by imprisonment for life.” Under Section 16-8-41(b), armed robbery is a felony punishable “by death or imprisonment for life or by imprisonment for not less than ten nor more than 20 years.”

Georgia is one of about 24 states that allow prosecutors to seek the death penalty for those not directly responsible for a murder committed during the commission of a felony. Known as the “agency theory” of felony murder, it allows for co-felons and accomplices to face the same sentence as the one who caused the death of someone else during the course of another felony. The actual killer is, in short, an “agent” of the others that committed the felony alongside him and thus inextricably links them with the killing that takes place during said felony.

Georgia’s Felony Murder Rule as it Applies to Forrest’s Killers

As to the murder of Forrest, the details made public thus far suggest that the two assailants stole several items from Forrest with the use of firearms, also known as armed robbery. Armed robbery is a felony under the laws of the State of Georgia, as it is in all jurisdictions. Forrest was killed during the commission of said felony, thus a felony murder was committed. The “agency theory” of felony murder appears to be a non-issue here, as its been reported that both assailants may have opened fire on Forrest. If, however, the evidence ultimately suggests that only one assailant shot the former U.S. Olympian, the other assailant would still be on the hook for his death under the “agency theory.” Under either scenario, a conviction would mean a death sentence, life imprisonment without parole, or imprisonment for life under Georgia law for Forrest’s killers. If Atlanta prosecutors have their day in court with Forrest’s killers, therefore, the facts released thus far suggest that they will have all of the evidence that they need to score a revenge knockout for the boxing world’s latest fallen son.

Also available at: (including a legal analysis of Arturo Gatti's demise).

Paul Stuart Haberman, Esq. is an attorney at the New York law firm of Heidell, Pittoni, Murphy & Bach, LLP and a former law clerk of renowned New York City-based criminal defense attorney Joseph A. Bondy. He is also a New York State licensed boxing manager and the Chairman of the Sports Law Committee of the New York County Lawyers Association. ©


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