In most cases where charges of murder are brought against an individual, they come after a victim has been found dead. In some cases, no body has been found but police have enough circumstantial evidence pointing to an individual committing murder to take them to court. But what happens when a victim initially survives an assault but dies years later as a result?
Recent cases have seen a defendant admit their guilt and be convicted of attempted murder, to then face a murder charge and extra prison time when their victim dies sometime after their conviction. In a few cases, this time gap between the incident causing injury and eventual death, as a result, has reached over 10 years.
Under what is known as the ‘delayed death’ exception to the rulings of double jeopardy, where a defendant cannot be tried for the same crime twice, offenders have found themselves suddenly being charged with murder years after their attack on a victim. What this proves is that actions have consequences and when those actions take the life of another, even after an extended period of time, full justice for a victim can and will still be achieved.
On 18 May 1990, 23-year-old Ronald Latham attacked his girlfriend Marie Shambeau after she tried to end their relationship. Latham had strangled and then stabbed Marie leaving her clinging to life under her bed at her home in Rensselaer, New York. His attack caused devastating injuries which required emergency surgery to save her life. Although she survived the surgery, she suffered a stroke which left her paralyzed from the neck down and on life support.
One month later, Latham handed himself in to police and confessed to his crime. He was found guilty of second-degree attempted murder in January 1991 and sentenced to 7-22 years in prison. Almost two months after Latham was sentenced, Marie Shambeau suffered a second stroke as a result of her injuries and died.
“In an era where medical advances can prolong the life of a critically injured victim, a prosecution must proceed on the basis of the victim’s present condition. Where death follows, however, it is also in society’s interest that a homicide be redressed.”
Her death sparked an indictment against Ronald Latham for murder observing the delayed death exception rule. Latham fought the new charge against him stating double jeopardy in that he had already been convicted of attempted murder after admitting his intent to cause the death of Marie Shambeau. In February 1994, his appeal was rejected and he was subsequently convicted of second-degree manslaughter and given a sentence of 8-25 years in prison.
His second appeal in 1997 was also turned down after it was ruled his admission of guilt in 1991 in attacking Marie Shambeau could now be used against him after her death. “He claimed that his admission of his attack on Ms. Shambeau could not be used against him because no one had warned him of that possibility when he pleaded guilty,” reported the New York Times in 1997. A claim that was thrown out.
In a more recent case, 21-year-old Garvey Thomas was shot in Willesden, London on 16 June 2006 and left with life-changing injures. He was able to identify Shaun Brown as the man who had shot him. Brown was convicted of attempted murder and possession of a firearm with intent at Inner London Crown Court on 6 July 2007, receiving a minimum sentence of 12 years in prison.
Three years into his sentence, his victim Garvey Thomas died in 2010 as a result of complications from the gunshot wound inflicted by Brown. Shaun Brown was finally charged with murder in October 2016 and in April of this year he was convicted 10 years after he shot his victim.
“I want to make it clear, we will pursue those who carry out such heinous crimes no matter how much time has passed.” Detective Sergeant Jason Grafham of the Metropolitan Police Homicide and Major Crime Command told Get West London after the verdict.
Although these cases are rare, the death of an individual after often suffering years of injuries and medical complications after being attacked is a tragic end and still without a doubt, murder. The passage of time between an attack and a death should not absolve those who inflicted such violence from facing the full criminal consequences of their actions.
For Ronald Lantham in New York and Shaun Brown in London, their actions many years ago have caught up with them and they will now remain behind bars with a conviction of murder on their records. As Marie Shambeau’s father, Hazen Shambeau told the New York Times, “It shows that victims do have rights.“