The Franklin Police Department has brought charges against eight young men that were present during an assault upon a Dean College student on December 2, 2010. The incident took place on the college campus and all of the men were students.
A video recording of the incident shows a man, later identified as Kirk Dudley, delivering a knock-down punch to the victim followed by several more punches as the victim struggled to get back on his feet. Dudley then removed one of the victim's shoes and swung it at the victim's head before taking off the other shoe and departing with the pair. Throughout the video other men can be heard laughing and shouting. Some of them can be seen making hand signs, smiling, laughing, and possibly taunting the staggering victim.
A December 6, 2011 article at MyFoxBoston.com, stated that Dean College learned of the incident shortly after it occurred, and on the following Monday viewed the video that had been posted on line. According to the college's official statement, "[t]hat video has provided additional insight and disturbing views of what transpired." The college also said that the nine students had been expelled, and that the investigation was ongoing.
It appears that the video not only provided insight, but also provided evidence to be used against eight men that were standing by as Dudley did what he did. Today's Milford Daily News reports that the Franklin Police applied for Criminal Complaints against the eight onlookers and that they are scheduled to be arraigned in the Wrentham District Court on April 2. The article states that all eight will be charged with armed robbery and disorderly conduct.
The Milford Daily News article raises several issues. It states that the eight men will be charged with armed robbery, but states that Dudley has been charged with unarmed robbery. This is inconsistent, and it is hard to tell which one is wrong. Without some kind of weapon, there can be no armed robbery. It could, however, be said that Dudley actually committed an armed robbery because he used the first shoe as a weapon in the process of obtaining the second one.
Since the eight bystanders did not actually commit the acts necessary for robbery of any kind, the theory must be that they aided and abetted Dudley. In order for one of them to be guilty of robbery under this theory, the prosecution must prove that 1) he was present, 2) that he knew that Dudley was going to rob the victim, 3) that he shared Dudley's intent to rob the victim, and 4) that he either helped or made himself available to help if needed.
Each of the eight stands in his own position on these issues. What if one or two were just there and remained in the background without saying or doing anything? Should they be charged with robbery? Moreover, should the one or two that made hand signs or laughed loudly be in any worse position? If so, why? Video recording the commission of a crime is not a crime. Laughing at the commission of a crime is not a crime. And failing to intervene on behalf of a helpless victim is not a crime.
Furthermore, can it be proven that any of the eight shared Dudley's intent to take the shoes from the victim? The video does start with a view of the shoes, and the MyFoxBoston.com article does say that Dudley claimed that the victim had stolen the shoes from him. This may indicate that there was some kind of a plan to get the shoes, but as a matter of proof of shared intent with regard to each of the eight, it is a stretch. And what about the man behind the video recorder? Will he also be charged with robbery? Was he there to help steal shoes, or was he just using his cell phone to record a confrontation?
The video is powerful and dangerous evidence in this case. It makes the bystanders look heartless and callous to the point that one viewing the video may become enraged at their behavior. In fact, the first comment posted in response to the MyFoxBoston.com article, appears to come from a man that works on a college campus and he said that "[i]f they were at my school, I would be fired for a baseball bat 'Beat Down' on ALL OF THEM!¬!" So, each of the eight young men, no matter what their individual involvement, will have to overcome this sentiment.
On the other hand, while the college may be correct that the video is "disturbing," a juror's gut reaction to a disturbing video must be set aside and the factual evidence must be evaluated objectively to determine if it supports the crime charged. Moreover, it must be evaluated for each individual charged. After all, these eight young men all acted differently, and they are all being charged with a life felony. (As well as the misdemeanor of Disorderly Conduct).
I have not seen all of the evidence. What I have written here is based upon the news reports and the video itself. Surely, the victim gave a statement. There may be statements from one or more of the eight men as well as statements from other witnesses. In the final analysis, the video will be the most shocking and and most probative evidence. If evaluated fairly, it should actually help exonerate some or all of the eight bystanders.
All crime is bad behavior, but not all bad behavior is crime.
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