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Felony murder rule may ensnare suspected child abuser

Virginia's felony murder rule often seems like a relic of the ancient common law, but the rule can have up-to-date teeth for those accused of a felony in which another person died. The rule may be applied in the recent case of a man who is charged with the sexual abuse and murder of his girlfriend's young son.

The man and his girlfriend were arrested in January in connection with the alleged abuse and death of the girlfriend's two-year-old son. The two were charged with various crimes involving child sexual abuse, production and distribution of pornography and child abuse and neglect. The county medical examiner concluded that the child died from a blunt force trauma to his head and that the manner of death constituted homicide.

The male defendant has been charged with several sex crimes, including child abuse, aggravated sexual battery of a child younger than 13, solicitation of a child under age 15 for sexual purposes, accessory to inanimate penetration of a child younger than 13, accessory to forcible sodomy of a child under the age of 13 and various crimes associated with producing and distributing child pornography. Many of these offenses are felonies, and the death of the child during the commission of any one of these crimes constitutes a felony murder. The woman has been charged with sodomizing her son, inanimate penetration of her son, production and distribution of child pornography involving a child younger than 15, child abuse and neglect.

The man has been held in the Montgomery County jail pending the outcome of a psychological evaluation of his competency to stand trial. The state and defense counsel both agreed to a request to postpone further proceedings in the case until the psychological evaluations have been completed.

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