It's a no-brainer that the alleged robber who fatally ran over an elderly nun while fleeing police last week should be charged with murder. But the Manhattan DA's decision to also charge his partner with murder could be a hard sell with a jury. William Robbins was initially behind the wheel of the minivan that was pulled over by police last Tuesday morning in Harlem, and he complied with cops by getting out of the vehicle. That was when his alleged partner in crime, Dyson Williams, slid behind the wheel and sped off. Robbins was in police custody when Williams killed Sister Mary Celine Graham several minutes later, but like Williams he's being charged with Murder in the Second Degree, a felony punishable by up to life in prison.
Under New York State law, you can be charged with murder if someone else is killed while you're committing a separate felony. In Robbins's case, he was allegedly committing armed robbery before cops pulled him over. But the catch here, of course, is that Williams killed the nun with the minivan, not the guns. Also, Robbins complied with police and was not in the vehicle when Williams ran her down.
Brian D. Linder, a partner at the law firm Clayman & Rosenberg who specializes in criminal defense, tells the Times, "When one person surrenders and the other person does the opposite, they’re no longer acting in concert. You should be treated differently than someone who tears off and kills someone in the escape." On the other hand, when you're driving around robbing people at gunpoint, maybe you should be held responsible when somebody gets killed, even if it wasn't the way you anticipated?