Utah Roulette: Reckless Manslaughter vs. Depraved Homicide

A Utah appeals court recently rejected the appeal of Brad R. Ricks, a man convicted of homicide after killing a drinking buddy.

The Pissing Match Turns Deadly

Brad Ricks and his friend Maurice Lee were drinking together one evening in 2009. The two men started what Ricks characterized as a “pissing match about who had the balls big enough to do something.”

The so-called pissing match turned serious when Lee suggested that Ricks get his gun.

Ricks went down a hallway to get his gun and checked to see whether it had any bullets in it. Although Ricks thought he had pulled the gun’s slide back enough to see that no shell was in the chamber, he had in fact pulled the slide back enough to actually chamber a round once the slide was released.

Upon returning to the room, Lee encouraged Ricks to place the gun on Lee’s forehead and taunted him that he did not have the courage to pull the trigger.

Ricks pulled the trigger, expecting only to hear a clicking sound, but instead killed Lee.

The Conviction and Appeal

Ricks admitted during trial that he was intoxicated and should not have been playing with his gun. A jury did not sympathize with his claims that he made a horrible mistake and convicted him of murder, a first-degree felony.

He was ultimately sentenced to 16-years to life in prison.

Upon appeal, Ricks claimed the evidence was insufficient to convict him of murder. Specifically, Ricks claimed that the state did not sufficiently prove that he did more than “just act recklessly.”

During the trial, the jury was instructed by the court that it had to find that Brad Ricks killed Lee with the intention f causing serious bodily harm OR that Ricks acted under circumstances that evidenced a “depraved indifference to human life” and created a grave risk of death to Lee.

Depraved Indifference Murder vs. Reckless Manslaughter

Ricks claims that he should have been found guilty of reckless manslaughter, which the jury was also instructed on.

A conviction of reckless manslaughter would have carried a lighter sentence than depraved indifference murder.

The difference between depraved indifference murder and reckless manslaughter is that depraved indifference murder carries a greater level of culpability due to an increased probability of death.

Depraved indifference murder happens when someone creates a “highly likely probability” that death will result, whereas a manslaughter conviction is appropriate when a person creates a “substantial and unjustifiable risk” of death.

Ricks cited a similar “dry firing” case where the Utah Supreme Court affirmed a defendant’s conviction of reckless manslaughter. The appeals court noted that the reckless manslaughter case who thought that his gun was unloaded, whereas Ricks knew that there was a bullet in his gun, just that he did not think it was chambered.

This difference appears slight, but was enough for the judges of the appeals court to affirm Ricks’s conviction.

The Salt Lake City criminal defense team at Greg Smith & Associates handles white collar crime cases throughout Utah. If you or a loved one is under investigation or has been charged with a financial crime, call us at 801-651-1512 or contact us online.

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