Law Life: Kictchen stove causes felony murder

By Pat Murphy
The Daily Record Newswire

It took a strange confluence of events for petty thief Cole Wilkins to be convicted of felony murder.

That a kitchen stove falling from the back of Wilkins’ pickup is the underlying cause of his troubles must make his 25-years-to-life sentence all the more tough to swallow.

A California jury found Wilkins guilty of first degree murder in the death of David Piquette. Piquette died around 5:00 am on July 7, 2006, when he swerved his car to avoid a kitchen stove that suddenly appeared before him in the westbound lane of the 91 Freeway outside Anaheim.

Piquette’s evasive maneuver brought his vehicle into contact with a large semi-truck commodity hauler, which overturned. Piquette and his car were crushed in the crash, leaving investigators to figure out where the stove had come from.

The trail of evidence led to Wilkins.

According to the state’s evidence, about an hour before the crash, Wilkins stole the stove and a number of other appliances and fixtures from a home construction site in Menifee.

Menifee is about 60 miles from the crash site and Wilkins was a member of the construction crew that worked at the home. Wilkins’ cell phone records showed he was in the area of the Menifee jobsite when Home Depot delivered the stove, a refrigerator, a dishwasher, a range hood, a microwave and a sink, all of which turned up missing the morning of Piquette’s fatal accident.

After loading the stolen goods on his pickup truck, Wilkins took off for his home in Long Beach. Wilkins failed to lock his tailgate or otherwise secure the stove and it fell off as he was travelling home on the 91 Freeway.

That’s the state’s version of events.

Wilkins claimed that he never burgled the Menifee home, instead buying the stolen appliances from a Home Depot driver. A jury didn’t buy it and the felony-murder rule was applied in a draconian fashion to convict Wilkins in the death of Piquette.

Piquette argued that the felony-murder rule never should have been applied in his case because, even if he did commit a burglary in Menifee, Piquette’s death was not part of the continuous chain of events in the commission of that crime.

Earlier this month, the California Court of Appeal shot down that argument, affirming Wilkins’ first degree murder conviction and 25-years-to-life sentence.

The court explained that the “acts that caused the homicide — the failure to tie down the load of stolen loot and raise the truck’s tailgate — occurred at the scene of the burglary, not 60 miles later when part of the unsecured load fell off the back of the defendant’s truck as he drove to where he could unload and hide the haul. As a result, it was not unreasonable for the jury to conclude the homicide and the burglary were part of one continuous transaction, inasmuch as defendant was in flight from the scene with his license plates secreted.”

This might seem a bit harsh, but there’ll be no tears shed in this corner.

Prosecutors showed that Wilkins has a lengthy criminal history going back to when he was 13 years old. Wilkins has been preying on people and property most of his lifetime.

If the system may have gone overboard in punishing Wilkins for the death of Piquette, tough cookies.

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