First-Degree Murder and the Death Penalty under Illinois Law

First-Degree Murder Charges in the Headlines

Early this week in Chicago two very different incidents both gave rise to first-degree murder charges. The first incident occurred on the 9100 block of South Commercial Avenue in Chicago. According to, 18-year-old Devon Brunt, from Chicago’s South Side, allegedly shot and killed 33-year-old Tekia Burns during a robbery that turned deadly. Mr. Brunt had approached Mr. Burns, pulled out his gun, and demanded that Mr. Burns give him his possessions. Mr. Burns and Mr. Brunt began to fight, at which point Mr. Brunt shot him in the head. He was declared dead at a local hospital about one hour later. Mr. Brunt was last scheduled for a bond hearing on Wednesday in Cook County. He was ultimately charged with first-degree murder.

The second incident involves a knife and a fight between father and son. reports that 27-year-old Brandon Haarmon and his father allegedly got into an argument in their apartment. According to neighbors, the father and son had frequently argued, and the fights had escalated to the point that neighbors had complained. While the fighting had temporarily died down, neighbors said that they could hear the final fatal fight on Tuesday evening this week. Mr. Haarman allegedly stabbed his father to death, and was charged with first-degree murder. He is scheduled to appear in bond court this week.

First-Degree Murder Under Illinois Law

Two different situations—a shooting and a stabbing—and two first-degree murder charges, demonstrate how suspects are charged under Illinois criminal law. Illinois Compiled Statutes (ILCS) 720 ILCS 5/9-1, Sec. 9-1 establishes the elements of what constitutes the crime of first-degree murder under Illinois law. Under that statute, a person may be charged with first-degree murder if he or she killed another person without any justification under three scenarios: (1) the person had the intent to either kill the other person, or to do great bodily harm to that person, or knew that his or her acts would cause that person to die; (2) the person knew that the acts that he or she was participating in would create a strong probability of death or great bodily harm to the other person; or (3) the person was committing or attempting to commit a forcible felony when he or she killed the other person.

First-Degree Murder may be Punishable by Death under Illinois Law

It is very important to note that under Illinois law, first-degree murder may be punishable by death. The defendant—that is, the person who killed the victim—must have been at least 18-years-old at the time of the murder, and there must be aggravating factors in order for the defendant to be eligible for the death penalty. Some aggravating factors pertain to who the victim was. For example, two aggravating factors are:

  • The person who was murdered was a peace officer or fireman and he or she was killed in the course of performing his or her duties, and the defendant knew that he or she was a peace officer or fireman;
  • The person who was murdered was an employee of the Department of Corrections, or a similar agency, and was killed while performing his or her duties;
  • The person who was murdered was an inmate at a correctional facility and was killed there;
  • The person who was murdered was present at a correctional facility, with permission to be there.

Other aggravating factors have to do with the status of the person who committed the murder. For example, some aggravating factors include:

  • The defendant was convicted of first-degree murder of two or more people and either intended to do so, or knew that such death would occur;
  • The defendant murdered the person under a contract or agreement with another person, under which he or she was to receive money in exchange for the death of the victim;
  • The defendant murdered the other person in order to prevent them from testifying or participating in a criminal investigation or prosecution;
  • The defendant was an inmate at a correctional facility when he or she committed the murder.

The above factors are only a small sample of the many aggravating factors that may give rise to a death sentence for first-degree murder under Illinois law. If you have been charged with violating criminal laws, you should immediately seek out the assistance of an experienced criminal law attorney to evaluate your case. Contact Goldman & Associates today for a confidential consultation.

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