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State v. Johnson

Supreme Court of North Carolina
344 S.E.2d (1986)


Facts

Richard Johnson (defendant) and his wife, Brenda, were separated. The couple had two children together: an 11-year-old son, Christopher, and a five-year-old daughter, Joyce. Johnson retained custody of the children. At one point, Johnson and Brenda engaged in an argument over Brenda’s access to the children. Brenda stated that Johnson threatened to kill the children. Not long after, Christopher was brought to the hospital and was diagnosed as suffering from organophosphate (insecticide) poisoning. Christopher was administered an antidote and was released the following day. Later that month, Joyce was brought to the hospital and was diagnosed with a urinary tract infection. The doctor prescribed Joyce a sweet-smelling, dark-orange, liquid antibiotic. Several days later, Johnson told Christopher to look after Joyce while he went into town. Johnson then gave Joyce a teaspoon of white liquid. At trial, Christopher testified that the liquid had an odor similar to bug poison. Johnson testified that he had given Joyce her antibiotic. A few minutes after Johnson left, Joyce became very sick. Upon his return home, Johnson was made aware of Joyce’s illness. Joyce was rushed to the hospital, where she later died. The doctor who treated Joyce testified that Joyce exhibited the symptoms of an oral ingestion of organophosphate poison. Johnson testified that he had sprayed his house with insecticide to alleviate an insect problem and denied threatening to kill his children. The jury found Johnson guilty of first-degree murder. Johnson appealed the decision, claiming that the trial judge improperly failed to instruct the jury that (1) a specific intent to kill was a necessary element of first-degree murder and (2) a conviction of the lesser-included offenses of second-degree murder or involuntary manslaughter was possible. The Supreme Court of North Carolina heard the appeal.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Meyer, J.)

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