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USC Student's 1994 Shooting Could Be Reopened As A Homicide Case

Publication Date: 
March 25, 2010
Source: 
Los Angeles Times
Author: 
Kate Linthicum

Professor Robert Weisberg is quoted in the LA Times on the possibility of new charges in a case involving a gang member who served time for attempted murder after shooting a young woman, leaving her paralyzed. Kate Linthicum filed this story:

In 1994, someone walked up to Lisa La Pierre's parked car in West Hollywood, thrust a gun through the cracked window and fired.

The bullet didn't kill La Pierre, but it ended life as she knew it. Paralyzed from the neck down, the USC pre-law student dropped out of school and spent the next 15 years on a ventilator and in a wheelchair.

La Pierre died in January. Now officials are trying to determine whether it was the gunshot that killed her.

...

Stanford University law professor Robert Weisberg said Supreme Court precedents would allow the district attorney to prosecute Lewis for La Pierre's death, even though Lewis already served time for the attempted murder.

Such a scenario would not be double jeopardy, he said, because at the time of the initial trial, prosecutors could not have charged Lewis with the higher charge of murder because La Pierre hadn't yet died.

But Weisberg said prosecutors would be hard-pressed to prove that the shooting caused La Pierre's death, especially because she lived for 15 years after the accident.

"The legal standard for causation would be incredible mushy," he said. "If the prosecution wants to go forward with this they can, but they would have to convince a jury the death was caused by these circumstances."

The fact that Lewis was a juvenile at the time of the crime is "another bizarre, complicating factor," Weis- berg said, which could make it difficult for the prosecution to try him as an adult.

Together, the circumstances make the case what lawyers like to call "an exam question," he said.

"It's some ridiculous narrative that has 17 different issues in them that you only see on law tests -- until it actually happens."