Can an asthma attack really be a case of first-degree murder?

It sounds like something from a “Law & Order” script, but a Boston jury must decide if a gunman accused of spraying bullets on a street is to blame for a man who heard the shots from a block away, fled and then suffered a fatal asthma attack. 

It may seem a stretch to pin the January 2012, death of Kelvin Rowell on Michael “Fresh” Stallings, 23, but that’s what prosecutors are trying to do when the trial begins this week, according to The Boston Globe.

"Are you then accountable if it turns out one of the people who ran has asthma?”

- Daniel Medwed, Northeastern University law professor

“The question is: You fire into a crowd, it’s foreseeable that people would then run. Are you then accountable if it turns out one of the people who ran has asthma?” Daniel Medwed, a Northeastern University criminal law professor, told the newspaper.  “Let’s take it another step. . . . It’s foreseeable that someone who ran for their life would get hit by a car. To what extent is that different? The fact that the means of death is unusual, does that matter when the fact of death is foreseeable?”

After Stallings fired shots at a group on Blue Hill Avenue, bystanders fled. No one was hit. But a block away, Rowell, 40, heard the shots and ran before he collapsed, gasping for air, according to prosecutors. His asthma attack was so severe that he spent the next six weeks in a coma, and then died. Prosecutors say Rowell was not involved in gangs or illegal activity.

Opening statements in the case are expected this week in Suffolk County Superior Court in Massachusetts.

The law has long said that a defendant whose felonious act leads to the death of someone can be charged with that person’s murder, but in the Stallings case the jury would have to find that Stallings acted with premeditation or with extreme atrocity or cruelty, according to the Globe. If Stallings is convicted, he would face life in prison without parole.

Stephen Weymouth, the attorney for Stallings, told the paper there is no evidence Stallings knew Rowell had asthma and said the prosecutor had overcharged his client.

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