The Impact: Felony Murder

In Arizona, felony murder can be charged against a person if a death occurs during the commission of certain felonies, even if the death was not planned, anticipated, or a result of a direct action. Felony murder gives prosecutors excess power to charge people with harsh sentences, coerce them into pleas, or pressure people into testifying for fear of a life sentence in Arizona's punishment system. The law disproportionately impacts young people, women, and people of color at higher rates, breaking apart families and communities. 

Our Stories

Read the stories of people impacted by Arizona’s unjust felony murder law. 

Taneysha, Jarrett, & Aerath

I wrote the poem, Torn,  in honor of my brothers, Jarret and Aerath. Jarrett had just had a daughter and one on the way. And Aerath is tall, but a gentle giant. They are the sweetest, most comedic two guys you could ever meet. Full of enthusiasm and life. They always acted like they were older than me, trying to be protective, even though I was the oldest.

Where would my life be if they were not apart of it? I really couldn’t have imagined a day without them. But I remember the day like yesterday, it replays in my head. The last time I saw their faces, heard their laughs, saw their smiles. I never could have fathomed the 12 years that have now passed: convicted on Felony Murder Charges for a life they did not take.

Arizona law lists 16 felonies that apply to the murder statute. If a person commits one of those felonies, and someone else dies in the course of it, according to the law they are liable for murder.

Prosecutors were able to unfairly leverage the law to put two innocent people, my brothers, away for life."

My brothers were involved in a situation where marijuana was present. Aerath never left his house, but he made two phone calls related to the situation. Jarrett was asked by his friend to accompany him, and he went thinking it would take less than 10 minutes. He had no weapons or intent to do anything except stand by his friend. But when they got there, it appeared to be a set up. Someone tried to rob Jarrett and his friend, and his friend fought back. Once Jarrett was able to pull his friend from the situation they ran home. They were so scared, but felt lucky they made it out alive. They did not even know a person died until the police arrested them.

Despite not killing anyone, both my brothers received life sentences in the Arizona Department of Corrections. It is only because they were peripherally involved with a felony involving marijuana – which is now legal–that they were charged with such a harsh crime. Neither of them were involved in the death, but prosecutors were able to unfairly leverage the law to put 2 innocent people, my brothers, away for life.

I express my deepest condolences for the life lost. No one should have died. No one should have had to grief for the loss of life. But this law is not justice. Instead, this law labeled two people as murderers who did not kill anyone. This law has caused my brothers to lose their lives. They are sentenced to death by incarceration, because the mandatory minimum for felony murder is life in prison.

Two vibrant young men, have already lost 12 years of their life and will likely never come home. Something has to be done.

The Felony Murder Law needs to be demolished, because it is harming innocent people. I am here to be a voice for my brothers and can only pray that the ones in charge of making this law will repeal it in Arizona and give the real justice that is needed. I ask and plead to give their lives back and to take the felony murder law away.

To lose both of my brothers at the same time, on the same day, is something I’ll never get over. I haven’t quite smiled the same since they’ve been gone. Holidays aren’t the same. Jarrett’s girls are growing up without their father. It feels as though my family and my heart has been torn apart; the only lifetime I would have with them has been taken away.

Torn

From the hip we were locked
Where you were, I wasn’t too far
When you laughed, I laughed times two
When you got mad, I was mad too
When they took you
They took most of my heart
My dreams, my world
Was broken apart
When they told for a lifetime
I would never see you
I was so broken
Worst part was
I knew u were broken times two
To know I have been
Torn from you

A poem written by Taneysha for her brothers Jarrett and Areth 

The Felony Murder Law needs to be demolished, because it is harming innocent people.

Valerie & Justin

Despite wanting it, Justin has not been given any opportunities to further his education or counseling for emotional trauma . . . His prison time is proving that the system doesn’t care very much about rehabilitation. 

Justin graduation

 

Justin was an avid Boy Scout and a leader among his peers in scouts, church, and school. Before graduating high school, he was captain of both the soccer and football teams, he was named defensive player of the year, and received ‘The Spirit of Heritage Award’. This award is given to one student who most embodies the spirit of Heritage Academy by not only being an outstanding student, but also by their service to the school and community. He was excelling at his job and looking forward to making it a lifelong career.

Justin was only 20 years old in the summer of 2017 when his life was forever changed. Like so many others, he was convicted for a murder that he did not commit. Justin was going to a party with some friends, and they decided to purchase some marijuana. His friend arranged the transaction and the five of them followed each other in two separate cars to an apartment complex to pick it up on their way to the party.

After waiting in the parking lot awhile, a phone call was made using Justin’s phone to see where the guys were with the marijuana. During the call they found out that they were in the wrong parking lot, so his friends walked over to the other parking lot to make the exchange. At that point something went wrong, and two boys were shot and killed.  Justin was never even at that location. Only one boy decided to pull the trigger, but five boys were charged with murder. Even though Justin was not there when the drugs were exchanged it was the phone call from his phone that prosecutors said made him liable for murder.

Repealing felony murder would prevent others like Justin from being coerced into plea agreements for harm they did not commit.

 

In Arizona, a felony murder conviction comes with the possibility of the death penalty and the prosecutor working on Justin’s case hung that threat over him. In lieu of going to trial, Justin, encouraged by his public defender, took a plea deal for 16 years without the possibility of early release.

During the more than five years Justin has been in prison he spent about one year bed ridden when he, like many others in ADC, was unable to get the medical attention he needed for a back injury. After his many attempts to get to a doctor, filing grievances, emergency grievances as well as his mother contacting the prison, Centurion, the ACLU, he finally got the surgery that he needed and can walk again.

Despite wanting it, Justin has not been given any opportunities to further his education or counseling for emotional trauma because he will not be eligible for education until the last two years of his sentence and ADC doesn’t offer any counseling. His prison time is proving that the system doesn’t care very much about rehabilitation. 

Without opportunity for growth and development, Justin is concerned about what his future will look like when he is back in the outside world, especially since he’ll now have the burden of a felony conviction. However, he stays positive and keeps as busy as he can. He takes on any opportunity for jobs the prison offers him, and he reads a lot. He also enjoys helping and encouraging others through their journey there as well.

Outside the prison, Justin’s four brothers and I do our best to remain connected. We moved closer to the prison so visits can happen more often, and we write letters and emails regularly.  

Repealing felony murder would prevent others like Justin from being coerced into plea agreements for harm they did not commit.

We can’t wait to see Justin take flight when he is finally set free.

Submit your story

Tell us your story. How has Arizona’s felony murder law impacted you and your family?