Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Arizona Man Dead Playing Russian Roulette - No Charges for the Survivor

AZ Central

Authorities in southwestern Arizona say a 19-year-old man is dead after an accidental shooting.
Yuma County Sheriff’s deputies went to a Yuma home Friday after getting a report of a gunshot victim.
Upon arrival, deputies located David Henry with a single gunshot wound to the head.
Investigators say Henry and another person were playing Russian roulette with a loaded handgun.
After interviewing all parties that were present at the time of the shooting, sheriff’s investigators have ruled the incident as an accidental death.


  1. And, um, what should the charge be for not shooting someone?

    1. Kurt,

      If charges were to be filed, my guess would be a reckless homicide charge, or a second degree murder charge if they thought they could prove it under state law, based on taking part in such a foolish game.

      Frankly, I'm a bit surprised that charges haven't been filed, but we have so little information in the article that pinpointing the cause is impossible--I can think of 6 possibilities off the top of my head:

      1. Charges could be forthcoming from the DA in spite of the Sheriff's ruling.

      2. The DA may have decided not to pursue this, or not pursue it at this time, because his plate is full of cases he considers more serious and a better use of limited funds.

      3. The DA may have decided not to pursue this because of not wanting to be perceived as anti-gun (Mike's likely favored speculation, though I don't see a prosecution here as being anti-gun if the case is what it appears).

      4. There may be some difference in AZ law that I don't know about, either in the statutes or the case law, that somehow makes a conviction unlikely (I'd put this at a lower probability than the others, but without knowing their law I can't discount the possibility).

      5. There could be facts we aren't seeing here since the article gives us so little. As an example (and yes, this is convoluted, but I've seen real cases less convoluted in textbooks), it could be that after watching Deer Hunter they started playing Russian Roulette in the back yard pointing the guns at cans/pop bottles/anything other than their heads (I've heard third and fourth hand stories of people doing this). In such a situation, maybe the deceased got over-confidant and decided to take one shot at his head at the wrong time. In such a situation they would have been playing a stupid but safe game that suddenly turned deadly on the actions of the deceased alone, leaving his buddy traumatized but potentially innocent. Frankly, some variation of this is the only way I can see to legitimately rule the death a straight up accident and not place blame on the other player for his recklessness in engaging in, and thus encouraging, a normal game of Russian Roulette.

      6. Finally, the surviving player could be a friend/family member of the Sheriff, or otherwise well connected.

    2. Simon, thanks for answering Kurt's dumb question so seriously and thoroughly.

    3. Why do you have to ascribe stupidity? It's not a dumb question, it's just a question that indicates that he may not have a full grasp on all the ways our system can find a person guilty of another's actions--something many people don't know the finer points of.

      Also, the law here is not settled nationwide--hence option 4 above. The case I cited below was from Pennsylvania. A court in AZ might not agree that taking part in the game was enough for manslaughter--they may have decided that in the past. Kurt and SSG are making the counterargument. I disagree with it, but it's not a stupid argument.

    4. Thanks, Simon, both for the explanation, and for defending me.

      Got a good chuckle over Mikeb's clumsy attempt to turn us against one another.

    5. P.S. Didn't mean to leave out SSG and TS. Respect to my homies.

  2. Accidental?? Really ? Looks to me that it is a suicide by being STUPID!
    One more stupid self removed from the gene pool.

  3. Mike, currently it isn't illegal to commit suicide. So in this story, what I'm seeing are two people taking turns attempting to commit suicide. One was successful first.
    There would be the potential for prosecuting under assisting suicide, though there would need to be some evidence like proving the gun belonged to the not dead guy.

    1. Don't you think these boys might have been guilty of any number of gun crimes as well as reckless endangerment.

    2. Possibly, Lets look at them.

      Homicide, It sounds like there were more witnesses than the dead guy's opponent, so it likely wasn't that.

      Reckless Endangerment, There is an endangerment law on the books, however it has a loophole in that it isn't illegal to put yourself in danger.

      Illegal discharge of a firearm, They have a law against that too, but the guilty party is dead.

      This story does speak to the value some people put on their lives. One can also hope that the other parties present have maybe learned to pick a different party game.

  4. After writing that, I decided to take a quick look at wikipedia and see if it had anything on Russian Roulette. Article is here. It mentions a PA case similar to this. Wikipedia and its quote from the case are not clear, but it links to a decent write up of the case here.

    In this case, the players were pointing the gun at each other. The kid who lived, since he pointed the gun, was convicted of second degree murder. He was arguing that he should only have been convicted of manslaughter. Basically, the court held that participating in the game was enough for a manslaghter conviction, and that his pointing the gun was reckless enough to justify the murder conviction as a depraved heart murder since his action showed such severe recklessness.

    This is why I said reckless homicide (a species of manslaughter) at least, with the possibility of a second degree murder conviction. It's possible that a jury and then appeals court in AZ or other states would find that the mere participation in a standard game of Russian Roulette would be enough to evince a depraved heart--there just hasn't apparently been a case yet. (Or at least one that has become well known enough to become known to wikipedia, which is as far as I'm taking my research at the moment.)