TAMPA Fla May 24 2012 - It could have been a simple shoplifting charge, but a man accused of stealing goods from a Target may face serious time in prison.
That’s because the security guard who chased and tackled him collapsed and died of a heart attack.
Now the accused shoplifter faces a third-degree felony murder charge, and a minimum of 10 years in prison.
It all unfolded at the Target store on West Hillsborough Avenue on May 27, 2011.
Security cameras zeroed in on Mervin Bettis almost immediately. You see him looking around; then he reaches for the shelves.
Hillsborough detectives say he’s shoplifting more than $1,100 worth of merchandise. Moments later, the video shows him walking right past the checkout lines and out the door.
He doesn’t get far. First, a loss prevention officer grabs him; then, the store’s security guard rushes up.
All three fall to the ground in the struggle. This is where it might have ended: a simple shoplifting bust. But just seven minutes later, the security guard you see in the video collapses from a heart attack and dies, turning this into a case of third degree murder.
Store employees say the security guard, 65-year-old Russell Horner, was out of breath and walking oddly. Just as he steps out of the camera’s view, investigators say he collapsed.
“If you’re going to commit a crime and somebody dies, we’re going to hold you responsible for that, and that’s what we have here. It’s a death that occurs in the commission of a felony,” said Tampa defense attorney Jeff Brown.
Brown is not involved in the case, but has handled several high profile trials. He says if he were defending Bettis, he would question connecting Bettis’ actions with the guard’s death.
“I think my first defense might be, well, this death didn’t occur as a consequence of it. It happened afterwards. And I think we fight the whole battle as to how remote is too remote,” Brown said. “Is it seven minutes, as in this case? What happens if that night he went home and had the heart attack? Is it five or six hours? I think that’s where you fight the battle.”
Brown says prior medical problems don’t matter in the eyes of the law, and neither does intent. Even if the suspect didn’t mean for anyone to get hurt, he’s still on the hook.
“It doesn’t matter. The law says look, this is what happened as a consequence of what you did and that’s where you fight the battle when this goes to trial. If it goes to trial, that’s what the jury will be wrestling with,” he said.
If Bettis had just stolen the merchandise, with a clean record, he could have gotten off with just probation.
But instead, because someone died, he’s facing hard time: a mandatory minimum of 10 years in prison, if not 15.
Source: FOX 13