In terms of senseless tragedies, this one makes as little sense as any. One man is facing charges after he allegedly poured lighter fluid on a sleeping homeless man and ignited it. The homeless man, who was featured in a documentary, was known to Chicagoans as “the walking man.” He is not expected to survive the attack.
A 27-year-old man has been charged. If the victim dies, the defendant will face charges of first-degree murder. Surveillance cameras show the man scoping the area for traffic before dumping the lighter fluid from a cup onto the sleeping man. The homeless man began thrashing wildly when a security guard noticed him and put out the blaze. 911 was immediately called.
Police used the surveillance footage to track down the suspect, who told them that he had found a cup full of gasoline and wanted to set some trash on fire. When asked why, he told police he was an angry person. The defendant maintains that he was not aware that a person was sleeping there. Medical personnel have described the burns as “non-survivable.”
At present, the defendant faces charges of aggravated arson and attempted first-degree murder. If the victim dies, however, the charges will be upgraded to first-degree murder.
Analyzing the Defense
This is why you need a lawyer when you are being interrogated by the police. Essentially, the police have trapped him into a specific defense. He will have to argue that he did not know there was a homeless man amid the garbage he was trying to set on fire. If he can cast enough doubt on the matter, he may be charged with felony murder, which is the equivalent of first-degree murder under the law. In other words, his defense does not improve his circumstances.
You may be inclined to wonder why he would be charged with first-degree murder even if he did not intend to kill anyone. Under Illinois law, you can intend to commit a specific type of felony that is not murder, and if someone dies in the commission of that felony, you can be charged with first-degree murder. In other words, the defendant probably thought he was arranging himself a manslaughter plea bargain, but in fact, his condition has not improved at all. The defendant would have been better off if he had remained entirely silent.
Instead, this particular defendant has admitted that he was the man on surveillance, and that is all the prosecutors will need to establish that he is guilty of aggravated arson and felony murder.
Sometimes, defendants think they have watched enough television dramas to represent themselves. In this case, the defendant has left whatever attorney decides to take his case very little to work with in terms of a defense. The client either pleads guilty to first-degree murder or fights the charges and faces a felony murder prosecution.
Charged With a Crime? You Have the Right to Remain Silent
David Freidberg represents the interests of those charged with serious crimes in Chicago. If you are facing charges, call us right away at (312) 560-7100.