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daytonamisticrip's avatar

What degree murder is this?

Asked by daytonamisticrip (4851points) November 9th, 2010

I just read black cat by Edgar Allan Poe and we’re working in groups in class and part of the assignment is to figure out what degree murder this is. I think it’s either voluntary or involuntary manslaughter. Basically to summarize what happened in the story is he had a black cat named Pluto which he thought was a witch. He killed the cat and the next day his house caught on fire. He thought that Pluto was trying to kill him. After a while he realizes that killing the cat was wrong so he gets another black cat that he thinks is a reincarnation of Pluto. He starts to hate this cat and when it almost trips him on the stairs he goes to kill it with an axe. His wife puts her hand on his arm to stop him and without much thought he swings the axe at her and kills her. Then without any emotion he puts the body in the wall.

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10 Answers

Coloma's avatar

Neither. He sounds insane. Maybe a Scizophrenic who is suffering from a psychotic break with reality, sooo, I’d say he is not guilty by insanity. lol

zenvelo's avatar

I’d agree with @Coloma, but for sake of your question, I’d think it was involuntary manslaughter. There is no evidence of malice, and nothing was directed to her except by accident.

diavolobella's avatar

Criminally negligent homicide. Swinging an axe at someone isn’t an accident or involuntary. The reasonable expectation is that if you swing at and strike someone with an axe, you are going to kill them.

The man might have lacked intent to commit the crime, as would be required in a first or second degree homicide. But, he either knew or should have known that his actions could or would result in death or substantial bodily injury to another person, and so his actions were beyond being simply negligent. That makes them criminally negligent.

zenvelo's avatar

@diavolobella for my own curiosity, suppose I was about to use an axe on a chopping bock. As I raised it back over my head, it smacks someone who I didn’t know was behind me, whack, right in the head. Would that be criminally negligent?

Or, what if I thought I was using a hammer (it’s dark out), but it was an axe?

diavolobella's avatar

@zenvelo. You did not know they were behind you, so no, that is not criminal negligence. That’s the difference. He knew she was there (she touched his arm in an attempt to prevent him from killing the cat).

iamthemob's avatar

“without much thought”, if a factual assessment, tells you the intent level – negligence at best (though one could argue for recklessness…I would stick with negligence in this case).

I’m certain that your teacher or prof gave you the standards – so I wouldn’t go higher than the one that has negligence.

flutherother's avatar

The murderer doesn’t sound sane to me and a good defence lawyer could argue this is a mitigating factor in the crime. If he has plenty of money and can pay for the best psychiatric testimony and the best lawyers a convincing case could be made. If he is poor he will be fried.

lillycoyote's avatar

@iamthemob really, that wouldn’t have been my reasonably uneducated guess. It sounds like he killed her or at least assaulted her with the axe because he didn’t like the fact that she was trying to stop him from killing the cat. I was thinking that just because he didn’t give it much thought didn’t mean that the intent to was to at get her out his way and he used an axe to do it. I was thinking second degree murder maybe. This kind of situation wouldn’t meet this definition of second degree murder? The the fact that he thought his first cat was a witch that burned his house down for killing it and that is second cat was a reincarnation of the first might be the basis for an insanity plea, though the legal definition of insanity is pretty narrow, I think. Anyway, that’s just my non- legal trained thinking on it.

iamthemob's avatar

@lillycoyote – you’re right! It does depend on what he wasn’t thinking about. ;-).

If he killed her because she was getting in the way of him and the cat, that would be intent. It just depends what that intent was.

(the degrees are tricky because technically all states have different criminal codes)

lillycoyote's avatar

@iamthemob And I guess it also depends on whether or not your legal training comes from a fully accredited law school or from watching a lot of episodes of ”Law and Order, Law and Order: SVU and Law and Order: Criminal Intent”.

And very funny. “It does depend on what he wasn’t thinking about.” I guess it does, if wasn’t thinking about letting about letting his wife survive the axe attack. :-) I assume it would be up to the prosecutor to decide if there is enough evidence for 2nd degree murder, no witnesses, and the guy is kind of a nut, but it’s Poe, after all. And this is all based on a summary of the incident in the story. It might be clearer after reading the story itself. There might be more detail and more context that would give everyone here who has this fictional characters fate in our hands a better idea of what actually happened. And isn’t that what prosecutors would have to do here? Put together what one would hope would be not only a plausible but generally accurate description of what happened in the absence of witnesses? Can we assume the ability to collect and analyze forensic evidence that wasn’t available during Poe’s time? And he did hide her body in the wall. That seems to indicate that he knew what he did was wrong and so I’m not going for an insanity plea.

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