TOPEKA — The Kansas Supreme Court ruled Friday a man committed first-degree murder when he accompanied a gunman on a burglary.
“If someone dies from a gunshot in the course of an inherently dangerous felony, all the participants are equally guilty of the felony murder, regardless of who fired the fatal shot,” wrote Justice Marla Luckert in a unanimous ruling.
As Markez Phillips and his girlfriend, Regina Stuart, were sitting in a Wichita home Dec. 14, 2011, they heard a knock at the door. When Phillips went to answer, two men forced their way inside. As Phillips tried to close the door, he was shot in the face.
Five men were charged with crimes in the burglary, including Reginald Dupree, who was charged with seven criminal counts, including first-degree murder.
Dupree was the only witness to take the stand in his defense. Dupree said he didn’t know his co-defendant, Malek Brown, had planned to commit a burglary and only went along so Brown wouldn’t kill him.
Dupree was walking back to his car when Brown shot Phillips, he said.
A jury convicted Dupree on all seven counts and a Sedgwick County judge sentenced him to life imprisonment with a minimum sentence of 20 years for murder, plus 122 months for other crimes.
He appealed the murder conviction directly to the Supreme Court. In his appeal, Dupree made several arguments, including a narrow interpretation of the felony murder statute.
The law allows for murder charges if a killing occurred “while in the commission of, attempt to commit, or flight from any inherently dangerous felony.” Prosecutors asked the jury to convict Dupree because he was in the commission of a dangerous crime — aggravated burglary — when Phillips was killed.
But Dupree claimed since the burglars weren’t yet inside the home, they weren’t yet committing burglary and he therefore shouldn’t have been convicted.
The Supreme Court was unconvinced.
“Nothing Dupree points to convinces us the language of the statute requires that the state must prove whether the killing specifically occurred once the intruders had crossed the threshold,” Luckert wrote, “as opposed to while they were committing the act of forcing their way into the home.”
“The evidence sufficiently supported the jury’s finding that Phillips was killed while the men were committing aggravated burglary,” the justices added.