PEOPLE OF MI V RUBY WILLIAMSAnnotate this Case
STATE OF MICHIGAN
COURT OF APPEALS
PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF MICHIGAN,
May 19, 1998
LC No. 95-004794
Before: Neff, P.J., and O’Connell and Young, Jr., JJ.
Defendant appeals as of right from her bench trial conviction of first-degree felony murder,
MCL 750.316(1)(b); MSA 28.548(1)(b), for which she was sentenced to life imprisonment without the
possibility of parole. We affirm.
On appeal, defendant first challenges the sufficiency of the evidence to support her conviction.
When reviewing a claim of insufficient evidence, this Court must view the evidence of record in the light
most favorable to the prosecution and determine whether it could have convinced a rational trier of fact
that each element of the crime was proved beyond a reasonable doubt. People v Kozyra, 219 Mich
App 422, 428; 556 NW2d 512 (1996). Defendant argues that the prosecution failed to present legally
sufficient evidence that defendant inflicted the injuries from which the victim died, or that she did so with
intent to cause serious physical harm.
First-degree felony murder includes “[m]urder committed in the perpetration of, or attempt to
perpetrate . . . child abuse in the first degree.” MCL 750.316(1)(b); MSA 28.548(1)(b).
establish the malice element of felony murder, the prosecution must prove that in the course of
committing the underlying felony the defendant caused the victim’s death while acting with the intent to
kill or cause great bodily harm, or with a wanton and wilful disregard of the likelihood that the natural
tendency of the defendant’s behavior was to cause death or great bodily harm. People v McKenzie,
206 Mich App 425, 428; 522 NW2d 661 (1994).
Regarding the underlying felony, “A person is guilty of child abuse in the first degree if the
person knowingly or intentionally causes serious physical or serious mental harm to a child.” MCL
750.136b(2); MSA 28.331(2)(2). This felony requires proof of the defendant’s specific intent to cause
serious physical or mental harm. See People v Gould, 225 Mich App 79, 86; 570 NW2d 140
The evidence of record, viewed in a light most favorable to the prosecution, adequately
supports the trial court’s finding that defendant caused the victim’s death, and acted with a frame of
mind that satisfies the intent requirements of felony murder and first-degree child abuse.
The victim, the four-year-old daughter of defendant’s stepdaughter, was pronounced dead at
St. John’s Hospital at 1:06 p.m. on April 4, 1995. Defendant and her husband, who pleaded guilty to
second-degree child abuse, had custody of the victim as temporary guardians since September 1994,
this arrangement stemming from the victim’s mother’s own pattern of abusing and neglecting the child.
According to trial testimony, the victim’s mother had not visited with the victim for approximately four
months before the victim died. The examination of the victim’s body brought to light indications of
severe physical abuse and malnutrition.
Defendant’s nine-year-old daughter testified that she had witnessed defendant striking the victim
in the past in ways that, according to expert testimony, were consistent with the blows that caused the
victim’s death. According to defendant’s daughter, defendant’s history of violence against the victim
included striking the child on the back, arms, and head with a belt, a shoe, or an open hand.
The medical examiner testified that the victim had several fresh injuries, mainly bruises and
contusions, adding that those bruises could have been caused by a hand, fist, belt, or flat edge of a shoe.
The examiner identified three different areas of the victim’s head where she had received blows. The
examiner concluded that the cause of death was craniocerebral injuries occurring within twenty-four
hours of the victim’s death, and that to inflict such injuries as the victim suffered, an adult would have
had to deliver the blows with substantial force. Further, defendant testified that she was at home alone
with the victim from 8:00 a.m. the day she died until defendant called 911 that afternoon.
“Circumstantial evidence and reasonable inferences drawn therefrom may be sufficient to prove the
elements of a crime.” People v Jolly, 442 Mich 458, 466 (1993). Additionally, defendant, who
shared guardianship of the victim for the several months before the death, shares in responsibility for the
victim’s state of malnutrition, which the trial court reasonably regarded as a factor contributing to the
victim’s death. This evidence could lead a reasonable trier of fact to conclude beyond a reasonable
doubt that defendant caused the victim’s death.
Defendant argues that her assertion that the victim had fallen in the bath comports with the
coroner’s finding of the cause of death, and that the evidence also indicates that the victim suffered
physical abuse at the hands of other family members. However, the prosecution need prove only its
own theory beyond a reasonable doubt in the face of whatever contradictory evidence the defense may
produce. It is not necessary for the prosecution to disprove every reasonable theory of innocence.
People v Johnson, 137 Mich App 295, 303; 357 NW2d 675 (1984).
The evidence is likewise sufficient to support the trial court’s conclusion that defendant intended
to cause the victim serious physical or mental harm, as required for first-degree child abuse, and that
defendant intended to cause great bodily harm, or acted with a reckless disregard for the probability
that such harm would result from her actions, as required for felony murder. The latter may be inferred
from the facts and circumstances of the underlying felony. People v Aaron, 409 Mich 672, 728-729;
299 NW2d 304 (1980); Gould, supra at 87. The nature of the injuries from which the victim died,
plus the evidence of defendant’s pattern of administering harsh physical abuse to the victim, considered
along with the victim’s state of severe malnutrition, which could only have aggravated the effects of
physical violence, and for which defendant cannot escape responsibility as one of the victim’s guardians
for the previous several months, well support the conclusion that defendant acted with the specific intent
to cause the victim serious physical or mental harm, and with at least a reckless disregard for the
likelihood that the victim would suffer great bodily harm.
Defendant’s other argument on appeal is that her conviction is improper because the underlying
felony of first-degree child abuse is not a felony independent of the homicide, the former being
committed with the same assaultive intent as the latter.
This Court rejected this argument in People v Jones, 209 Mich App 212; 530 NW2d 128
(1995). In jurisdictions where felony-murder covers negligent or accidental killings committed during
the perpetration of a felony, the doctrine of merger folds the underlying felony into the homicide in order
to ameliorate potentially harsh consequences where the underlying felony was committed with the same
assaultive intent as the homicide. Id. at 214. However, Michigan’s felony-murder law requires proof of
malice as required for murder and is not meant to deter negligent or accidental killings. Id. 215; Aaron,
supra at 719. This distinction renders the doctrine of merger inapplicable to this state’s felony-murder
law. Jones, supra at 215. “On its face, the statute [MCL 750.316; MSA 28.548] clearly allows all
murder committed in the perpetration or attempted perpetration of the enumerated felonies to be treated
as first-degree murder. Furthermore, the statute makes no distinctions for the commission of
enumerated felonies with assaultive intent against the murder victim.” Id. Accordingly, defendant’s
conviction of felony murder with first-degree child abuse as the underlying felony was proper.
/s/ Janet T. Neff
/s/ Peter D. O’Connell
/s/ Robert P. Young, Jr.