Texas party law could have legal implications for Dallas Cowboys’ Kelvin Joseph

Although his attorney says Kelvin Joseph was not the shooter in a fatal drive-by shooting last month, the Dallas Cowboys cornerback could still be criminally guilty in the incident.

Dallas police questioned Joseph, 22, on Friday about his involvement in the death of Cameron Ray, a 20-year-old man who was shot early on March 18.

Surveillance video footage released this week by Dallas police shows Joseph and Ray’s respective groups of friends engaged in a skirmish around 1:45 a.m. outside a nightclub and bar in the 3600 block of Greenville Avenue.

Shortly after, a black SUV drove past Ray and his friends, and shots were fired from at least one of the vehicle’s windows, according to footage. Ray was taken to hospital, where he died.

Joseph’s attorney, Barry Sorrels, said Joseph was a passenger in the suspect vehicle but did not kill Ray.

“Kelvin was unarmed and did not seek violence,” Sorrels said. “He found himself in a situation that escalated without his knowledge or consent.”

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Texas party law allows accomplices to face the same charges as the person who caused the death.

“All traditional distinctions between accomplices and principals are abolished…and each party to an offense may be charged and convicted without alleging that they acted as principal or accomplice,” the law says.

There are many reasons why prosecutors can — and often do — charge the driver or passenger of a vehicle involved in a drive-by shooting, even if that person claims they did not know that violence would occur, said Tom Cox, a defense attorney and former prosecutor who practiced in Dallas County for about 30 years.

In similar cases, everyone in the vehicle could be charged for strategic purposes, Cox said. Prosecutors could agree to drop the charges or plead them to lesser offenses in exchange for a passenger’s testimony at the shooter’s trial, Cox said.

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But prosecutors routinely seek convictions and heavy sentences for others involved in such shootings.

That’s why the law is controversial, especially in capital murder cases where the death penalty is on the table, as well as in juvenile cases, said Katherine Reed, a Dallas defense attorney for more than a year. decade. Texas lawmakers have tried unsuccessfully to limit the death penalty for those convicted under party law.

The law of the parties says that if, in the course of an attempted crime, another crime is committed, “all the conspirators are guilty of the crime actually committed, although they have no intention of committing it, if the offense was committed with a view to illegality”. goal and was the one that should have been anticipated. This is commonly applied in cases of fatal store robberies: one thief might not have known the other would pull the trigger, but could have reasonably assumed it was possible.

Prosecutors could argue that Joseph could have foreseen that the violence would escalate as his group moved past the other group; even if the plan was just to yell at the men and one person went rogue, everyone in the SUV could be charged, Reed said.

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The law has come under scrutiny in the Dallas County case of Texas Seven prison escapees, who killed an Irving police officer during a robbery at a sporting goods store in 2000. Six of the men were sentenced to death, although some were excluded as shooters; the seventh escapee committed suicide before being captured.

Also in Dallas County, teenager Zephaniah Renee “Zephi” Trevino is facing a murder charge after a Grand Prairie robbery turned fatal in 2019 when she was 16. Lawyer for another suspect admits his client shot the victim, but says Trevino arranged the robbery; her supporters say she is a victim of sex trafficking.

Sometimes accomplices get longer sentences than the killer. In the fatal home invasion case of Elizabeth “Betty” Black in Farmers Branch, Charles Don Flores was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death even though Richard Lynn Childs admitted to killing Black. Childs, who pleaded guilty to murder and was sentenced to 35 years in prison, was released on parole in 2016.

Cox said Joseph’s actions after the crime will be crucial to the case.

Police and prosecutors will look into the actions of a person who says a shooting came as a complete surprise, Cox said, questioning them about why they took a particular route and what they did at the aftermath of the shooting – asking them if they acted in a way that is consistent with an innocent person or a guilty person.

Joseph’s attorney declined to say whether Joseph had spoken to the police. If he did, a key question will be about timing: How soon after the shooting did Joseph speak to the police? Did he talk to the police before he was identified in the video or afterwards?

“It’s hard to draw attention to the idea that someone is voluntarily cooperating with law enforcement if they wait a month for their name to be put on there before coming forward to cooperate,” Cox said. “It just doesn’t look the same as a person manifesting independently.”

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