A judge ruled this week that trial will proceed for James Brown, the man charged with four counts of first-degree murder in connection with the murder of four women, three of whom he met on the website Backpage.com.
The charges arise out of events that occurred in December 2011, when four women in their 20s were found dead in car trunks in Detroit. The bodies were discovered on two separate occasions, with the victims found in pairs.
Earlier last year, 51 attorney generals called on Backpage.com’s owner Village Voice Media to shut down the adult services part of its website. It has been reported that Backpage.com earns more than $25 million annually from so called “adult” ads, and has recently come under fire for its role in human trafficking. Similar websites such as craigslist have removed their adult services pages due to similar concerns.
Murder in the First Degree Under Michigan Law
If Brown is convicted, he faces a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole. While the news reports do not indicate the exact nature of the charges in this case, from the reported facts, there are two potential possibilities.
The first, and probably most commonly understood type of murder in the first degree, happens when a person commits a murder with some sort of requisite intent. In popular culture, this is sometimes referred to as “with malice aforethought,” or “in cold blood,” etc. Michigan includes within this category murder committed by any of the following: “poison, lying in wait, or any other willful, deliberate, and premeditated killing.”
The second type of potential first degree murder in a case like this is murder committed during the carrying out, or attempted carrying out of some other crime, which includes criminal sexual conduct.
In either case, however, the prosecutors will have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed all of the requisite acts necessary to meet the first degree standard. In the first case, for example, they would have to prove that he had a certain mental state when the murders occurred. This is in addition to the burden of proving that he did in fact commit the murders at all. Although the defendant maintains his innocence, according to the Associated Press, the defendant’s attorney suggested that Brown may have incriminated himself during a videotaped interview with police earlier in the year. While his attorney will most likely move to have this evidence excluded, I have written other times of the absolute importance of having an attorney present during questioning. This is your constitutional right, enumerated under the Fifth Amendment, and elaborated upon in Miranda v. Arizona. Anything you say to police can be used against you if you waive your right to remain silent. The police do not have your best interests at heart, their job is to collect evidence against you.
You are always well advised to consult a criminal defense attorney who can advise you regarding your rights in the criminal process. Even if you want to make some sort of admission, a criminal defense attorney can help negotiate a plea deal, or get some other more favorable outcome.
Attorney Steven L. Schwartz is a third generation attorney who has has dedicated his practice to criminal defense in the Detroit area for more than two decades. He is dedicated to his clients, and works tirelessly to secure a dismissal, not guilty verdict or reduced charges. Attorney Schwartz is AV Rated by the Martindale-Hubbell Peer Review Rating System, and prides himself at being reachable to his clients 24/7. If you need an experienced and zealous criminal defense attorney in the Detroit area, you can visit our website or call (248) 266-8720 to schedule your initial consultation.