Supreme Court Upholds Manslaughter Charge for New Bedford Cab Robber
NEW BEDFORD — A New Bedford man whose friend was shot and killed when the pair tried to rob a city cab driver at knifepoint in August 2018 can be prosecuted for manslaughter, according to the state's highest court.
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court wrote in an Aug. 24 decision that Kyle Dawson can in fact be indicted for the shooting death of 24-year-old Christopher Dunton.
Dawson was indicted in 2018 for involuntary manslaughter and other charges relating to the robbery gone wrong, in which Dawson's co-robber, 24-year-old Christopher Dunton, was shot and killed by the cab driver in self-defense.
The cab driver, who owned the gun legally, was not charged with a crime.
Dawson conditionally pleaded guilty, but moved to dismiss the manslaughter charge on the grounds that a 159-year-old Massachusetts law prohibits a person from being charged for murder when another person is killed by someone resisting a crime.
As described in the SJC decision, at around 1 a.m. on Aug. 10, 2018, Yellow Cab driver Albert Miguel picked up Dawson and Dunton on Cottage Street and took them to Bentley Street in the near North End.
All three men allegedly discussed what the SJC termed a "recent New Bedford crime wave", apparently agreeing that the "city's all f**ed up."
But when they arrived and Miguel told the men the fare would be five dollars, Dunton put him in a choke hold and Dawson held a three-inch knife to his side in an attempt to rob him.
As Dunton allegedly urged Dawson to stab the driver, "Miguel thought that he was going to die," the justices wrote.
He managed to break free from the choke hold and get out of the car, but Dunton was still moving around inside.
"Fearing that Dunton was armed, and unable to see his hands, Miguel fired into the rear of the taxicab three times, hitting Dunton," the court described.
Dawson had left the cab and took off on foot, leaving his phone behind.
Meanwhile Miguel called dispatch for help, according to the SJC decision, and Dunton was rushed to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 1:48 a.m.
Dawson was arrested days later.
The defense cited an 1863 decision, Commonwealth v. Campbell, in its challenge of the manslaughter charge.
The case — often cited as the basis for other decisions on vicarious liability in felony murder — centered around a riot protesting the draft during the Civil War.
As cited by the SJC, Campbell requires that "the act causing death in a homicide case originate from the defendant or his or her agent," and thus others cannot be found guilty of murder or manslaughter.
But the state's highest court ultimately found that "wanton or reckless involuntary manslaughter" is a different story.
"The defendant's liability for involuntary manslaughter arises from his wanton or reckless conduct in the course of committing an armed robbery that created a high degree of likelihood that substantial harm to another would result," the justices concluded.