Expert explains why three not directly involved in the death of a Cary girl are charged with first-degree murder

CARY, N.C. (WTVD) -- Since the death of a teenage Cary girl over the weekend, many can't seem to understand why four young people are charged with murder in a case that appears to be an accidental death during a drug deal gone bad.

A recently released search warrant examined by ABC 11 contains a number of clues.

It's obvious police believe 17-year old Joshua Simmons is primarily responsible for the death of 16-year old Katie Burdick-Crow.

Katherine Burdick-Crow

In the search warrant affidavit, an investigator writes that Burdick-Crow made arrangements to meet a fellow student at Cary's Green Hope High School to sell him marijuana.

They say that teenager, 17-year old Abijah Masse, told police he and three other teens planned to rob Burdick-Crow of the small bag of marijuana.

Former prosecutor turned defense attorney Hart Miles says that's where the kids went wrong.

"If you're around other young people that are getting in trouble, that are getting involved in drug transactions, even if you are not participating, if you are with them when something bad happens you can find yourself in a very, very bad legal situation", Miles told ABC 11.

In interviews with some of the suspects, police claim they were told that Masse along with 18-year old Beth Strange and 20-year old Jourdan Mack took part in robbing Burdick-Crow.

They say the group then tried to get away in a pick-up truck driven by Simmons.

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Simmons told police that Burdick-Crow jumped on the step rail on the driver's side of the truck, according to the search warrant. Apparently, she was trying to get him to stop as he was driving off.

Investigators claim Simmons told them he hit Burdick-Crow "in the face and head with closed fist two or three times until she fell from the moving... truck."

She later died at a local hospital.

"The fact that those acts as admitted directly resulted in her falling off the truck and eventually dying, if that's exactly what happened, then certainly that person has a very large legal problem," attorney Miles told ABC 11.

While some might consider Simmons' alleged actions and the resulting death first-degree murder, many were surprised that Masse, Mack, and Strange were also charged with first-degree murder.

Prosecutors announced the three were charged under a law known as the "felony murder rule" because they allegedly took part in the robbery.

Miles explains, "Any of the folks that participated even in a very minor way with a felony can be charged with first-degree murder."

He used as an example someone driving a getaway car in a bank armed robbery in which someone is shot and killed. Even though the driver wasn't even in the bank, just taking part in a felony that leads to a death can lead to a first-degree murder charge.

Miles won't be surprised if the murder charges against the three not directly involved are eventually reduced in exchange for their cooperation.

He added, "Many times folks that are charged with first-degree murder that had a very minor role will be given the opportunity to cooperate, potentially testify, and to mitigate their circumstances."

He also wouldn't be surprised if Simmons is allowed to plead to second-degree murder since it doesn't appear he intended to kill Burdick-Crow.

No matter what happens, Miles, a veteran of criminal court, is saddened by the case telling ABC 11, "When you're talking about a young person losing their life over a small bag of marijuana - tragic."

The search warrant also reveals another teenager identified as a student at Cary's Panther Creek High School was with the group of teens that allegedly robbed Burdick-Crow but was not charged.

The search warrant doesn't indicate that she took part in the robbery.

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