State v. Fierro

The Facts

Defendant charged with first degree murder.  Victim went on a ride to find marijuana driven by a friend.  The friend driver heard his name called from another car, stopped his car and walked over to another car where defendant was sitting in the passenger seat.  Victim remained in the car.  Defendant told friend driver that the Mexican mafia had instructed defendant to kill victim.  Friend driver told him to do it outside because “he and his wife did not want to see anything.”  Defendant began talking with victim.  Friend driver got in a car and began to drive away when defendant began shooting victim.  Victim was shot in the chest multiple times.  He was taken to ICU, where examination revealed he had suffered “brain death;” and he was declared dead shortly thereafter.  Prior to the announcement of death, friend victim, after reading about the shooting and that victim was still alive reported the incident to his probation officer.    The doctor eventually pronounced him dead and the cause of death being gunshot wounds.

Procedural History

Guilty at trial, defendant appeals on grounds that the doctor’s termination of victim’s life support was the cause of death, not his gunshot wounds.


“It is not indispensable to a conviction that the wounds be fatal and the direct cause of death.  It is sufficient that they cause death indirectly through a chain of natural effects and causes unchanged by human action.”

The Issue

Whether a doctor’s termination of life support breaks the “chain of natural events” or changes by way of human action the “chain of natural events” such that a defendant can be found not guilty of causing homicide.

Whether one can be declared legally dead for purposes of homicide when he is “brain dead” and sustained by life support.

The Holding

No, conviction affirmed.  The removal of life support did not change the “chain of natural events.”  When one injures another and the injury “contributes mediately or immediately to the death of such other.  The fact that other causes contribute to the death does not relieve the actor of responsibility, provided such other causes are not the proximate cause of the death.”  Moreover, the defendant was legally dead prior to the removal of life support.  Death can be objectively be determined by an ordinary layman … “when the condition of the body or the nature of the wound is such that no other determination is reasonable.”  New definitions of legal “death” encompass brain death as being legally sufficient to declare death.  Moreover, expert testimony demonstrates that the defendant’s brain death was irreversible.

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