Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Death Penalty? What aggravating circumstances under Tennessee law are present in Jesse Matthews’ case?

Jesse Matthews is currently in the Hamilton County Jail charged with felony murder after the murder of Sgt. Tim Chapin with the Chattanooga Police Department.

What aggravating circumstances are present in his case which makes him eligible for the death penalty? After a felony murder conviction, you can expect the State of Tennessee to introduce proof of a whopping six (6) aggravating circumstances to support their argument for the death penalty. Tennessee code lists sixteen (16) different aggravating circumstances. By my count, at least six (6) apply. They are as follows: -The defendant was previously convicted of one (1) or more felonies who elements include the use of violence to the person; -The defendant knowingly created a great risk of death to two (2) or more persons, other than the victim murdered, during the act of murder; -The murder was committed for the purpose of avoiding, interfering with, or preventing a lawful arrest or prosecution of the defendant or another; -The murder was knowingly committed, solicited, directed, or aided by the defendant, while the defendant had a substantial role in committing or attempting to commit, or was fleeing after having a substantial role in committing or attempting to commit, any robbery; -The murder was committed by the defendant…during the defendant's escape from lawful custody or from a place of lawful confinement; -The murder was committed against any law enforcement officer who was engaged in the performance of official duties, and the defendant knew or reasonably should have known that the victim was a law enforcement officer engaged in the performance of official duties.

A death penalty jury will weigh these aggravating circumstances and compare them with nine (9) mitigating circumstances. The jury must unanimously agree that the State has proven at least one or several aggravating circumstances beyond a reasonable doubt and that the aggravating circumstances outweigh any mitigating circumstances beyond a reasonable doubt before the death penalty will be valid.

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