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Heat of Passion? How Murder Trials Work

Posted on: September 3, 2008 at 11:09 a.m.

In Tennessee, a high school teacher's husband has admitted killing his wife's teenage lover, her former student, but it will be up to a jury to decide if it was premeditation, the heat of passion or an accident.

When it comes to murder charges, and other violent crimes, a defense often used by the defense is that the crime was an "act of passion." However, it can be difficult to prove such circumstances, because the defense often has to prove that there is no real motive other than an emotional response. In this particular murder trial, the husband came home one day and claimed he found the teenage lover there and demanded the teenager leave. The teen refused and the husband then called 911. He reported an intruder, "some guy who's stalking my wife."

After a few moments, Powell apparently backed down and McLean told the dispatcher the intruder was leaving. Seven minutes later, the wife called 911 and screamed, "My husband just killed someone. ... Please come. Hurry! Hurry!"

In a murder trial, those seven minutes can add up to 25 years or more in prison. In fact, prosecutors contend the facts point to premeditated murder. The defense attorney said what happened in those seven minutes between the 911 calls shows an act in the heat of passion, part of his argument for conviction on a lesser count like voluntary manslaughter. The Assistant District Attorney failed to get a first-degree murder indictment the first time the case went before a grand jury. The panel instead returned a second-degree murder charge carrying a 25-year maximum sentence. A second grand jury in December agreed to hand up the first-degree charge to prosecutors.

In California, where the death-penalty is legal, the difference between a first-degree and second-degree murder charge could mean death, or even decades longer in prison.

Tagged as: jury trial defense







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