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State Lawmakers Look To Create A Second-Degree Murder Charge

By Jeffrey Hess | Published 18 Feb 2013 03:38pm | comments

Mississippi lawmakers could soon add a new level of murder to the Mississippi legal system. MPB's Jeffrey Hess reports lawmakers are considering adding a charge of second degree murder.

A second-degree murder charge would carry a punishment of 25-years to life in prison, instead of the standard life in prison sentence for a murder conviction.

Senator Sean Tindell of Gulfport says the new charge would re-label the existing statue which is called 'depraved heart murder'.

"Depraved Heart Murder, for those of you that don't know, would be a situation where you might have somebody driving a car 90 miles an hour through a police blockade and an officer gets killed. There might not be intent to actually kill that officer but you should have known it would kill somebody," Tindell said.

Tindell, himself a former prosecutor, says changing the language from Depraved Heart to second degree murder charge would give prosecutors, judges and juries more flexibility in sentencing depending on the specifics of each case.

"As it stands now, if you get convicted of Depraved Heart murder you get life. There is no other option you are going to jail for life. That is what is going to happen. Under this bill it creates murder 2 which allows sentencing somebody to life. But what we don't want to do is take that discretion out of a judge's hands," Tindell said.

But allowing that discretion, particularly for judges, troubles Senator Derrick Simmons of Greenville.

"Are we allowing now the judge to be the 13th juror to say 'well I think this person should get life' despite what the jury decided," Simmons said.

Simmons says a second degree murder charge becomes irrelevant if defendants can still face up to life in prison.

"What is the need for even changing it from the existing law if you are going to create a second degree murder and allow the penalty to also be up to life?" Simmons asked.

34 other states, including several neighboring states, have second degree murder charges as part of their statute.

The bill now moves to the house for further work.

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