Felony Murder Rule Still Source Of Debate

12:02 PM, Feb 15, 2007   |    comments
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Greensboro, NC -- Five years ago today (2/15), in the early morning hours fire destroyed the Campus Walk Apartments near UNCG. Four young people died, two students and two recent grads. A few days later police arrested UNCG graduate student, Janet Danahey. She said she set the fire as a prank. Police believed it was revenge on an ex-boyfriend. Prosecutors charged the 23-year-old with murder. In July of that same year, she pleaded guilty to first degree murder and accepted a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. Danahey was sentenced under the felony murder rule, which states a person can be charged with first degree murder if someone dies while the accused is committing or attempting to commit a felony... in this case arson. Danahey maintains to this day she never meant hurt anyone, never meant to burn the building to the ground. She says she set an old couch on fire as a prank, and never intended it to spread beyond the apartment's porch; but prosecutors do not have to prove intent to use the felony murder rule. Danahey's sentence sparked debate. George Brown formed North Carolina Citizens for Felony Murder Rule Change. He and the 250 others in the group are petitioning lawmakers to change or repeal the rule. Over the last five years Brown talked with every state senator, and now he's working on house members. "It's legal fiction. To commit first degree murder this person had to intentionally plan and intentionally murder another human being. In Janet's case, that wasn't true," Brown says. There are others who are fighting just as hard to make sure the felony murder rule stays on the books, just as it is. They say Janet Danahey's case is the perfect example why. The district attorney at the time points to the facts: Danahey admits she set the fire; she did not try to wake anyone inside the building or call 911. It was in the end the 23-year-old's decision to plead guilty, and accept a sentence of life in prison, and her sentence will stand unless the president or governor decides to commute it.

WFMY News 2

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