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Theft, murder charges for shoplifter after heart attack

Readers in Florida may not realize that any death that occurs during the commission of a felony could result in murder charges for the person accused of committing the felony. This is true even when the underlying felony is not a violent crime. For example, a person accused of grand theft recently pleaded guilty to third-degree murder in connection with the death of a security guard at the store where the theft allegedly occurred.

According to news reports, the defendant was at a Target store when two security officers detained him as he tried to leave. The defendant reportedly resisted and there was a struggle before the employees put him in handcuffs. Soon after capturing the defendant, one of the two officers suffered a heart attack that caused his death.

Due to the law discussed at the top of this post, the defendant was charged murder as well as grand theft, though it could be argued that he did not directly cause the security guard's death. He could have faced up to 30 years in prison. After considering his options, he and his criminal defense attorneys accepted a plea bargain in which the defendant pleaded guilty to third-degree murder on Jan. 14. The court sentenced him to five years in prison, with credit for 20 months of time served.

Though the defendant in this case accepted a plea deal, prosecutors may sometimes add a murder charge to an underlying felony even where the evidence does not support the charge. In that case, a defense attorney could refute the prosecution's claims and construct a vigorous defense to avoid a lengthy prison sentence.

Source: Tampa Bay Times, "Shoplifter charged in death at Target store sentenced to five years," John Barry, Jan. 14, 2013

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