What is Capital Murder? - Definition & Cases

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  • 0:01 What Is Capital Murder?
  • 0:55 Capital Murder in Texas
  • 3:09 Capital Murder in Virginia
  • 5:30 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Dawn Young

Dawn has a Juris Doctorate and experience teaching Government and Political Science classes.

There are different types of murder charges in the United States. This lesson will define capital murder and examine two capital murder cases as well as the laws the cases are based on.

What is Capital Murder?

In Alabama, the father of a 2-month-old child called 911 when he realized his infant son was not breathing. The child subsequently died at the hospital. An autopsy of the child found that his death was caused by multiple traumas to the head and body. After the autopsy was conducted, the police charged the father with capital murder.

Capital murder is murder that may be punished by death. Capital murder involves murder plus some type of aggravating circumstance, such as murdering a police officer or firefighter while they are on duty, murdering a person while committing another felony like rape or abduction, or murdering a child. About 31 states have capital murder laws, and each has its own criteria for when capital murder is charged.

Capital Murder in Texas

In December 2012, Harlem Harold Lewis III was out driving his car. A police officer, Jimmie Norman, was in the area, saw the car, ran the license plate and found out that a warrant had been issued for insufficient insurance. At that time, Officer Norman activated his lights and sirens in an attempt to pull Lewis over. Lewis refused to stop and proceeded to run from the officer, at one point side swiping a truck driven by Sylvan Amaya. After getting struck, Amaya began chasing Lewis in an attempt to get his license and insurance information. After hitting Amaya, Lewis drove his car a while longer and then pulled into the parking lot of a Maaco body shop. Officer Norman then approached Lewis and attempted to remove him from the car. Terry Taylor, the owner of the Maaco body shop, came over to assist the police officer. As Officer Norman was trying to pull Lewis from the car, Lewis pulled out a gun and shot and killed Officer Norman and Terry Taylor. After the shootings, Lewis took off on foot but was eventually captured. Lewis was found guilty by a jury of capital murder and given the death penalty.

In Texas, a person can be charged with capital murder if the person commits murder, and:

  • The victim was a peace officer or fireman, lawfully engaged in the performance of their duties, and the person knew the victim was a peace officer or fireman.
  • The person intentionally committed the murder while committing another crime, such as kidnapping, burglary, robbery, aggravated sexual assault, arson, obstruction, retaliation or terroristic threat.
  • The person committed the murder for some type of compensation or the promise of compensation.
  • The person committed the murder while attempting to escape or escaping from a penal institution.
  • The person committed the murder while incarcerated.
  • The victim was an individual under 10 years of age.

In this case, Lewis was charged with capital murder because he shot and killed a police officer who was lawfully performing his duty.

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