Trial began this week in Hillsborough County against 46-year-old Chunping Lin, who is charged with second-degree murder in the 2011 death of his wife Lixin Tian. Tian died in July 2011 after being removed from life support, following a May 2011 beating by Lin. Tian’s cause of death was determined to be brain damage as a result of blunt-force trauma.
The couple’s 12-year-old son testified at trial that he woke in the early morning hours of May 25, 2011 to the sounds of Lin yelling at and beating Tian over money. The boy said he watched his father slap his mother, then start punching her in the back of her head. According to his testimony, the then-10-year-old boy tried to defend his mother by hitting Lin with his hands and with a Nerf gun, by throwing a glass at him and by putting him in a headlock. The boy also called 911.
Tian and her two sons, including a 19-year-old who had been sleeping upstairs, eventually made it out of the house. Lin ran after them, deputies said, shouting death threats.
The mother and sons tried to escape in Tian’s car, but the younger son fell out of the moving car in the chaos and his foot and leg were run over. Tian jumped out of the car to help the boy while the older son pinned pinned Lin on the ground until deputies arrived.
Tian refused medical help at the scene but began to feel pain shortly thereafter. Her older son drove her to the hospital where it was determined that her brain was swelling. She soon became unresponsive, her pupils fixed and dilated. She underwent emergency surgery and never regained consciousness.
The defense is arguing at trial that Lin did not make the decision to end her life, that he did not act out of “hatred, ill will, spite” or “evil intent”. They point out that Lin did not use a weapon.
A person is guilty of second-degree murder in Florida if he kills someone “by any act imminently dangerous to another and evincing a depraved mind regardless of human life, although without any premeditated design to effect the death of any particular individual”. A conviction carries a sentence of up to 15 years in prison.
Florida jury instructions help jurors determine whether an “imminently dangerous” act that shows a “depraved mind” occurred. Three elements must be present:
- A “person of ordinary judgment” would know the act, or series of acts, “is reasonably certain to kill or do serious bodily injury to another”;
- The act is “done from ill will, hatred, spite, or an evil intent”; and
- The act is “of such a nature that the act itself indicates an indifference to human life.”
Note that prosecutors do not have to prove the defendant actually intended to cause death.
Contrast this to the “premeditated design to kill” element required to find someone guilty of first-degree murder. Premeditated means that there was a conscious decision to kill. The decision must be present in the accused’s mind at the time the act was committed but doesn’t necessarily require a long thought-process or planning period. This is not the case for a second-degree murder conviction.