Justice LaVecchia continued in relevant part: Most telling that a traditional self-defense charge was not an applicable instruction in this instance was defense counsels’ request for a “self-defense slash accident” instruction, seemingly conceding that this was not an alleged act of self-defense, but a situation of a different ilk. It was. The victim, Johnson, was not the aggressor against whom Hearns was protecting himself in self-defense. Jones was the aggressor and defendants faced no charges of harming Jones.
Although the trial court was open-minded about whether to include language to elaborate on the role that accident played should the jury have believed Hearns’s version of events, the requested proposed language for a charge was not provided. We conclude that defendants were not prejudiced when the trial court did not pick up defense counsels’ torch and provide its own language to honor defendants’ half-hearted request for a charge melding their accident theory into the structure of self-defense.
Reviewing the jury charges as a whole, we conclude that, had the jury believed Hearns’s version of events, there were ample instructions to lead them to a verdict of not guilty. The jury was explicitly told that, to find defendants guilty of murder, Hearns’s actions must have caused Johnson’s death in a way that was not “too remote, too accidental in its occurrence or too dependent on another’s volitional act.” (emphasis added). The jurors were further instructed that “causing death or serious bodily injury resulting in death must be within the design or contemplation of the defendant.” Finally, the jury was told that each of these elements must have been proved beyond a reasonable doubt by the State.
A guilty verdict under those directives is simply incompatible with a belief that Johnson’s death was unintentional or accidental. Therefore, although explicitly stating that an accidental death is incompatible with a conviction for murder would not have been an error, we conclude that the absence of such explication also did not constitute error.
The Court’s reference to the jury instructions overlooks their inefficacy. Jurors routinely zone out during the lengthy instructions that come at the end of a trial when their attention span is depleted.