Breaking Down Manslaughter vs. Murder

(Editor's note: An important fact to this story that
was originally posted July 16, 2012, was not communicated clearly by Newscenter 11
and was misunderstood by some who commented on it is that "criminal charges are filed by law enforcement agencies, not by the district attorney's office. And bond for all suspects is set by municipal and justice court judges, not by district attorneys." It is posted here again for means of clarification and fairness.)

The families of Beth Morris and Carlos Hawkins both say they are outraged that the suspects accused of killing their loved ones were given a manslaughter charge and not a murder charge.

Authorities have said the killings were not premeditated and therefore did not warrant a murder charge. Now Morris' sister says she is worried about Harry Wayne Walden posting bond and becoming a flight risk.

"What is a flight risk? it's someone who can raise $5,000 and get out of jail," Mary Cobb Rosenzweig says. "And not show up for their hearing. A flight risk to me is Wayne Walden because he has no home. He lived with Beth; she paid the rent."

Our recent stories on the Morris and Hawkins families led us to ask what exactly is the difference between manslaughter and murder. We visited Lauderdale County District Attorney Bilbo Mitchell for answers.

"A manslaughter for the most part is an act that is committed during the commission or while the person is under the heat of passion," Mitchell says.

D.A. Mitchell says murder on the other hand is something that is done deliberately, while you are in a good state of mind. Furthermore, he says it is possible that a manslaughter charge could eventually turn into a murder charge once the case goes before a grand jury.

"So, there are a lot of times where people are charged with manslaughter and the grand jury indicts for murder or the other way around," Mitchell points out.

In Mississippi, Mitchell tells Newscenter 11 that a murder charge has a sentence of life in prison with no parole, where manslaughter carries zero to twenty years behind bars. Rosenzweig says that is not good enough.

"He admitted that he strangled my sister," she says. "Why would he come back and be put in jail? That's what I want to know. This is not right."

Mitchell says at this time, there are no plans to change the legal system in Mississippi concerning murder and manslaughter.

One additional and important note to this story is that criminal charges are filed by law enforcement agencies, not by the district attorney's office. And bond for all suspects is set by municipal and justice court judges, not by district attorneys.


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