An Overview of Capital Murder

Laura Langford, Dawn Young
  • Author
    Laura Langford

    Laura Langford is a nationally Certified Health Education Specialist. She has a Bachelor's degree in Health Education and Health Promotion from Arizona State University, where she also works as an Academic Associate.

  • Instructor
    Dawn Young

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

Learn what capital murder is. Explore what capital murder looks like in Texas and Virginia, and the difference between capital murder and first-degree murder. Updated: 05/08/2022

What is Capital Murder?

Capital murder is the legal term used to describe a murder that receives the highest form of punishment. Capital murder definition is murder that is punishable by death. What capital murder is can vary between states; however, capital murder always involves both murder and an aggravating circumstance. Aggravating circumstances are factors that increase the severity or wrongdoing of the murder. Aggravating circumstances of capital murder may include the following:

  • Murdering a police officer.
  • Murdering a child or elderly person.
  • Murdering a person while committing a felony.
  • Murders for hire.
  • Murders involving multiple victims.
  • Murders involving torture.

Capital Murder Sentence

The capital murder sentence for individuals who receive a capital murder charge can vary. Generally, a capital murder charge is punishable by life in prison, with or without parole, or the death penalty. Additionally, capital murders are associated with various monetary fines. Only states with capital punishment laws can charge an offender with capital murder. In the United States, 27 states currently authorize capital punishment. Capital murder sentences may vary between states and are based on the criteria established by each state.

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. Each state has its own criteria for when capital murder is charged.

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Capital Murder in Texas

In Texas, capital murder includes the willful, deliberate, and premeditated murder of a person, plus an aggravating circumstance. Aggravating circumstances of murder in Texas include:

  • Murder of a person under the age of 10 years.
  • Committing murder while incarcerated.
  • Committing murder while escaping from a penal institution.
  • Murder involving multiple victims.
  • Murder that occurs because of compensation.
  • Murder that occurs while committing another crime, such as kidnapping, burglary, sexual assault, arson, or a terrorist attack.
  • Murder of a judge or justice that was committed as an act of retaliation.

In Texas, a person as young as 17 years of age can be charged with capital murder if they meet the above criteria. The punishment for individuals under the age of 18 who are charged with capital murder is life in prison with the possibility of parole and a fine not to exceed $10,000.

The punishment for capital murder in Texas for individuals over the age of 18 is a fine not to exceed $10,000, in addition to life in prison without the possibility of parole, or the death penalty. Lethal injection is the most common execution method used. Individuals that are excluded from the death penalty include juveniles and individuals with intellectual disabilities or severe mental illnesses.

Capital Murder in Virginia

In Virginia, a person can be charged with capital murder for the willful, deliberate, and premeditated murder of a person, plus an aggravating circumstance. Aggravating circumstances of murder in Virginia may include:

  • Murder of a law enforcement officer who was performing official duties.
  • Murder of a victim under the age of 14 and the accused is over the age of 21.
  • Murder that occurs during the commission of a robbery or attempted robbery.
  • Murder committed during an act or attempt of terrorism.
  • Murder committed by a prisoner of a correction facility.
  • Murder committed for compensation.
  • Murder committed during or after rape, object sexual penetration, forcible sodomy, or any attempt of these offenses.
  • Murder of a pregnant victim, when the offender is aware of the pregnancy and had the intention to terminate the person's pregnancy.
  • Murder of a witness involved in a criminal proceeding and the offender had the intention to interfere with the involvement of the witness in the case.

In Virginia, the punishment for capital murder for individuals under 18 years or with a mental disability is life in prison and a fine not to exceed $100,000. For individuals 18 years and older, the punishment for capital murder is life in prison without the possibility of parole, or the death penalty.

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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Video Transcript

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. Each state 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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Frequently Asked Questions

What is different about capital murder?

Capital murder differs from first degree murder because it can be punishable by death. Capital punishment may include life in prison with or without parole, or the death penalty. Only 27 states currently authorize capital punishment.

What makes a murder capital murder?

Capital murder is murder that is willful, deliberate, and premeditated. In addition, capital murder includes aggravating circumstances, which are special factors that increase the severity or wrongdoing of the crime.

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