Sunday, November 20, 2005
South Texas CrimProf Susan Crump (pictured) explains the Harris County, Texas Prosecutor's decision to charge a school bus driver with felony murder for a child's death that resulted from a road accident. The bus driver, Jerry Michael Cook, was driving his school bus a block away from the school when he hit and killed 9 year-old Ruth Young, a fourth-grader at the school. Cook failed to yield the right of way to the girl as she was riding her bike.
From Chron.com: The Houston Chronicle: [Crump said Harris County prosecutor Warren Diepraam] "is well within the law to file a felony murder charge against the bus driver, but called the move 'unusual.'...Crump said the law identifies various ways in which murder is committed in Texas. The felony murder with which Cook is charged occurs when a person commits an underlying felony (injury to a child) and the person commits a clearly dangerous act to human life that causes the death of the victim...Cook also can be charged with criminal negligent homicide because the charge is not included as a lesser offense to felony murder under the penal code.
Under the penal code, a person commits criminal negligent homicide if he intentionally, knowingly, recklessly, or with criminal negligence causes the death of an individual. Criminal homicide is listed as murder, capital murder, manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide. Most bus drivers involved in the deaths of students in recent years were charged with criminal negligent homicide, although the charges later were dismissed by grand juries. A felony murder charge [in Texas] is punishable by up to life in prison and a $10,000 fine. Criminal negligent homicide is a state jail felony punishable by six months to two years in jail and a $10,000 fine...
Diepraam said he chose to seek a murder charge because the law provides extra protection for children. Diepraam says the Cook case is different from the other bus fatality cases. 'Generally speaking it's a fact-based situation. If it's something where the kid jumps in front of the school bus driver or something that is unexpected or purely an accident — it doesn't involve negligence or recklessness on the part of the bus driver — I wouldn't expect charges to be filed,' Diepraam said. 'There are many different factors that are alleged in this one.' The prosecutor said Cook committed the felony offense of injury to a child by negligently and recklessly causing Ruth's death. Cook, he said, by failing to maintain a proper lookout for Ruth and by failing to yield the right of way to her caused the girl's death. The bus, he said, constitutes the use of a deadly weapon." [Mark Godsey]