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Famous (and at times infamous) music producer Marion "Suge" Knight has found himself once again in legal hot water. This time, Knight was arrested after a hit-and-run in which he allegedly ran over two people in his car, killing one of them.
Knight's attorney claimed he fled in his truck in self defense, because the two victims were actually trying to kill him following a fight on a film set. What crime does Knight stand accused of, and does he have any defenses?
Murder Most Foul
Los Angeles County detectives arrested Knight on suspicion of murder -- something that seems likely, if eyewitness accounts of the situation are true. The eyewitnesses said that Knight got into his truck, followed the two men to the parking lot of a burger joint, then hit them with the truck, backed over them, and drove away.
Murder is defined in California, as in basically every other state, as the unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought. "Malice aforethought" just means that the defendant had the intent to commit an unlawful act. This intent can be express, meaning the defendant specifically and deliberately acted so as to kill another person, or it can be implied, meaning the defendant committed an act without regard to the high probability that someone would be killed (as in firing a gun into a crowd of people).
The degrees of murder are determined by the prosecution proving just how "bad" the defendant was. For example, lying in wait for the victim, torturing the victim, or committing a murder in conjunction with another dangerous felony all make the crime first degree murder.
Additionally, if prosecutors can convince a jury that a truck is a "dangerous or deadly weapon" (which it can be), then Knight could potentially be facing a mandatory sentence of life without parole.
Are There Any Defenses?
Knight said that he drove away because the victims were trying to drag him out of his truck. If that's true, then Knight could legitimately claim that hitting them was an accident that occurred as he was trying to flee.
Knight might also claim self-defense, based on his attorney's statements, but self-defense only goes so far. A person can use deadly force to defend himself from death or serious bodily injury, but once the danger is gone, the need to use lethal force goes away too.
Once Knight was safely in his truck, he could drive away, but he couldn't intentionally drive over the aggressors because his life wasn't in danger anymore. Additionally, if there were an earlier fight that stopped, Knight wouldn't be permitted to stalk the men in his truck and run over them later. The telling bit of evidence is the eyewitness statement that Knight apparently backed over the victims twice. This would tend to show that his actions were deliberate and possibly premeditated.
According to the Los Angeles Times, as of Friday morning, "Suge" Knight was being held in lieu of $2 million bail.