Created Equal: Are the correct people held accountable under America’s felony murder statute?

The statute has the power to sentence a person to a maximum of life in prison for their non-participation in heinous crimes.

Federal Prison Building

USP LOMPOC Federal Prison

Imagine being convicted of a crime you did not commit and wasn’t present when it occurred.

This sentencing is possible under a legal doctrine called felony murder. It has the power to sentence a person to a maximum of life in prison for their non-participation in heinous crimes.

This happened to Sadik Baxter.

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While Baxter was handcuffed in the back of a police vehicle for robbing unlocked cars, his accomplice, O’Brian Oakley, killed two bikers during a high speed chase. According to the Florida justice system, Baxter was just as accountable for the murders as Oakley — both were charged with first-degree murder.

Sarah Stillman, the winner of the 2024 Pulitzer Prize in Explanatory Writing, joined Created Equal to discuss her examination of felony murder.

Her December 2023 New Yorker article, “Sentenced to Life for an Accident Miles Away,” reports on the dire consequences felony murder charges bring for Black and Brown Americans.


Sarah Stillman is a staff writer for the New Yorker and teaches investigative reporting at Yale. She explains how the felony murder statute helps law enforcement evade responsibility for unnecessary deaths they cause at the scene of the crime.

“In all of the cases I documented, there was a death — and often just an unbelievably tragic and unnecessary death. And sometimes it came at the hands of the person’s co-defendant, but in other cases, it actually came at the hands of police or other actors at the scene.”

Listen to Created Equal with host Stephen Henderson weekdays from 9-10 a.m. ET on Detroit Public Radio 101.9 WDET and streaming on-demand.

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