Felony Murder: At the wrong place at the wrong time

On a cold night in 1993 I ventured out to a coffee shop in Denver with some people I had met at school. I was new to town, but I was told this coffee shop was a great place to meet girls. My “friends” were, unabashedly, trying to sell drugs. One member of my group approached someone in a much older group of kids about buying an ounce.  When they couldn’t come to a good price, one of the older kids pushed the dealer. He came back to our table. The other group started shouting racial epithets and blew a couple of spit wads at us. I shouted back some harsh language of my own and the guy sitting next to me pulled out a gun, tried to pass it to me under the table and said, “if they make a move.”

I said no to the gun. I found out much later (after the crew jumped me for being a “punk”) that if I had taken that gun, I would have been party to a robbery. I didn’t realize until I was an adult that if my “friends” had actually gone through with the robbery and someone had died, I could have been charged with felony murder.

I was fourteen on that night and I didn’t have a clue. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people, but it wouldn’t have mattered in the slightest to Bill Ritter. He would have hung me out to dry and I would be sitting in prison today.

There are kids out there who find themselves in the same position I was everyday. So what’s the difference between someone like me and someone like Josh Beckius who sat at the wrong table with the wrong people one too many times? Am I so much better than someone like Josh that I should be spared 20 years in prison? Or am I just lucky?

That’s the problem. The vicious combination of direct file, mandatory sentencing and felony murder make it not just possible, but likely, that good kids influenced by peer pressure or bad adults end up behind bars for stupid, largely unintentional mistakes. That isn’t right and most lawyers will agree that it doesn’t serve justice, it only serves the ends of political animals like District Attorneys trying to step up the ladder on the backs of poor kids like Josh Beckius.

Since that night in 1993, I’ve gotten to know several of the people I was running with. They made some mistakes growing up, but for the most part, they all got lucky too. One is a librarian with a 14-year-old son of his own. He prays everyday that his kid doesn’t make some of the same mistakes he did. I guess we’ll find out just how lucky he is.

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