The fatal bullet that killed a Trader Joe's assistant manager was fired by police. But the suspect, Gene Evin Atkins, is the one facing a murder charge.
This is because Los Angeles County prosecutors are using what's known as the "provocative act theory of murder" that allows a person to be charged with murder even though that individual didn't physically commit the act.
Atkins is accused of setting off a sequence of events that ended at a Trader Joe's, in which he exchanged gunfire with police. During that standoff, a store employee, Melyda Corado was struck and killed by an officer's bullet on Saturday, Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore said.
The Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office is using the "provocative act" doctrine, which is allowed in California.
Prosecutors are essentially trying to hold Atkins responsible for Corado's death, alleging the defendant "set into motion" a dangerous situation in which police responded. They allege his criminal acts caused consequences that were dangerous to human life.
The chain of events started Saturday, when police say Atkins shot his 76-year-old grandmother and kidnapped a 17-year-old female acquaintance. As he fled in his grandmother's car, he fired shots out the back window toward pursuing officers, police said.
Atkins crashed the car outside a Trader Joe's and continued shooting at police, who returned fire, Moore said. As Atkins fled into the Trader Joe's, Corado was exiting the grocery store, police said. That's when Corado was struck by LAPD gunfire.
Now Atkins faces a count of murder among the 30 other charges against him.
In general, the provocative act doctrine is commonly used in gang cases, but can be applied in different situations, wrote Shasta County Deputy District Attorney Rachel Donahou in a piece for a newsletter.
"It holds criminals accountable because they do not need to actually pull the trigger to be guilty of murder," she wrote.
In 2009, the California Supreme Court said murder liability "can be established in a provocative act murder case."
Here are some examples of how the doctrine has been used:
- Joseph Mantynen was initially charged with the murder of his wife, although she was shot by police during a December 2017 standoff in Mendocino County, California. Earlier this year, he pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter of his wife, reported the Press Democrat.
- In 2014, Gus Polly Adams originally faced a murder charge, after his girlfriend was shot and killed while they were burglarizing an elderly man's home in Long Beach. The 80-year-old homeowner walked in and was beaten by the pair. The elderly man then shot the woman. In 2016, a jury acquitted Adams of murder but found him guilty on other charges.