ALTHOUGH DEFENDANT COMMITTED A HEINOUS SECOND DEGREE MURDER, THE PROOF OF THE STATUTORY ELEMENTS OF FIRST DEGREE MURDER WAS LEGALLY INSUFFICIENT (FIRST DEPT).
The First Department, reversing defendant’s first degree murder conviction, determined that, although defendant committed a heinous murder, the statutory criteria for first degree murder were not met:
… [T]he evidence was legally insufficient to prove that defendant inflicted torture on the victim within the meaning of the statute in two respects. First, we conclude that defendant did not engage in a “course of conduct” with the intention of inflicting “extreme physical pain” on the victim. Extreme physical pain cannot be defined precisely. However, it cannot be reasonably doubted that the fatal blow to the victim’s neck caused extreme pain. Yet, that blow was a single act rather than a course of conduct. Thus, we find that defendant and his accomplices did not engage in a “course of conduct” involving the intentional infliction of extreme physical pain. Accordingly, the conduct at issue here does not satisfy the statutory definition of torture in that respect.
… [T]he record also fails to support the conclusion that defendant “relished” or “evidenced a sense of pleasure in the infliction of extreme physical pain.” In arguing to the contrary, the People point out that, after the homicide, defendant twice told other gang members that he had “hit [the victim] in the neck,” in a tone that the listener considered boastful. This did not meet the statutory standard. In our view, the statute contemplates evidence that the defendant savored the infliction of extreme pain in the process of inflicting the pain, and for its own sake. The record does not indicate that this occurred here … . People v Estrella, 2023 NY Slip Op 01240, First Dept 3-9-23
Practice Point: Here the evidence of two elements of first degree murder, torture and “relishing” the infliction of pain, were not proven. Therefore the first degree murder conviction was vacated.
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