A New York State murderer is expected to be released from prison because the state’s highest court ruled that he had been convicted on the wrong charge, the New York Times reports. A Suffolk County jury acquitted Kenneth Payne of intentional homicide in the 1998 shooting death of a friend and neighbor who he believed had threatened his daughter, convicting Mr. Payne instead of committing “depraved indifference murder.” The New York Court of Appeals threw out that conviction yesterday, saying that someone who intends to kill a specific person cannot be convicted of depraved indifference murder.
The decision is the third in little more than a year in which the high court has reversed a conviction involving “depraved indifference,” which is sometimes defined as a grave sort of recklessness, such as firing a gun into a crowded room. The court seems to have been trying to rein in the growing use by prosecutors of intentional and “depraved indifference” charges in the same case. The court’s opinion, said lawyer Jonathan Edelstein, “is going to be quoted in about 10,000 defense motions, starting tomorrow.” Robert Kenney, a legal aid lawyer who represented Payne, said that, “in this case, my guy walks.” Payne was serving term of 25 years to life.