Any killing of a human being is technically a homicide. However, not all homicides are legally classifiable as murder. In a story of a loving marriage gone sour, Benjamin Odierno’s killing of his wife resulted in his prosecution for murder in the second degree. Read the full story at cnn.com by clicking on this link.
The different classifications of homicides are generally identified as First Degree Murder, Second Degree Murder, Voluntary Manslaughter, Involuntary Manslaughter, and finally, a homicide can end up being excusable as no crime. These classifications vary based on the level of intent or state of mind of the alleged killer.
The crime of first degree murder requires a level of intent that is often demonstrated by a premeditation or planning (i.e., intentionally poisoning another person). Voluntary manslaughter is an intentional killing that occurs in a heat of passion (i.e., catching a spouse in the act of cheating), but without premeditation to kill.
In this case, Mr. Odierno was prosecuted for second degree murder. Among the classifications of homicide, second degree murder is a bit of an oddball. Second degree murder is often characterized as homicide that does not rise to the level of first degree murder, but is above the level of voluntary manslaughter.
The prosecution in this case apparently thought that Mr. Odierno’s actions did not take place with premeditation, but also not in a heat of passion. Despite the prosecution’s charges, the jury returned in favor of the defendant, finding him not guilty for the second degree murder of his wife. So in the end, Mr. Odierno’s killing of his wife, although a homicide, cannot be classified as a crime.
There are some other important observations to make from this case. The defendant’s attorney indicated that the killing was done in self-defense. Generally, a person may use up to an equal amount of force he is facing from an aggressor. Thus, Mr. Odierno may have successfully asserted the theory of self-defense only if his wife presented him with deadly force. The jury’s verdict seems to substantiate Mr. Odierno’s claim of self-defense.
Further, it should be noted that there is a distinction between the terms, “not guilty,” and “innocent.” In a criminal case such as this one, a jury may return with a verdict of, “guilty,” or “not guilty.” The jury does not declare any person “innocent,” even if that person is found “not guilty” of a crime. Mr. Odierno’s case exemplifies this point. Mr. Odierno did in fact kill his wife (remember, he admitted to the killing). He is not “innocent” of this killing, but he is “not guilty” of the crime.