A 32-year-old Crescent City man was sentenced Tuesday to serve seven years in state prison stemming from a home invasion in 2013 that left his accomplice dead. But no one is arguing that Samuel Hawken actually killed Josh Sherer.
Hawken pleaded guilty last month to voluntary manslaughter and assault with force likely to cause great bodily injury, according to a press release from the Humboldt County District Attorney’s office.
Hawken and Sherer broke into a residence on the 6100 block of Walnut Drive on Dec. 1, 2013, to confront some people who lived there. Once inside, Sherer began fighting with a 46-year-old resident there, jumping on top of him and hitting him with his fists.
Sherer pepper sprayed the man and, during the fight, Hawken joined in and struck the 46-year-old several times with a baseball bat before fleeing the scene. A 47-year-old neighbor, who lived in a trailer on the property, then came to the 46-year-old’s aid, grabbing Sherer and restraining him until police arrived, according to statements from the sheriff’s office at the time.
When deputies arrived, Sherer was unconscious and not breathing. He was later pronounced dead at a local hospital. According to the district attorney’s office, an autopsy determined his cause of death to be asphyxiation.
While it’s clear Hawken didn’t physically kill Sherer, he was charged with his murder under what’s known as the felony murder rule. A legal doctrine, the felony murder rule holds that if someone is knowingly committing certain felonies — including burglary — and someone dies during the crime, that person can be charged with their murder as the death was a foreseeable result of the underlying felony.
“When a person engages in a dangerous, provocative act and a death results, he or she may be held criminally responsible even if the actual killing was at the hands of another,” Humboldt County District Attorney Maggie Fleming said in a press release.
See the full press release copied below:
AUGUST 16, 2016
On July 1, 2016, Samuel Hawken, 32 years old of Crescent City, pled guilty to voluntary manslaughter and to assault with force likely to cause great bodily injury and stipulated to a 7-year prison term. He was sentenced August 16, 2016.
The convictions stem from an incident on December 1, 2013, when Mr. Hawken and Josh Sherer, 32 years old of Eureka, went to a residence in Eureka to confront the people who lived there. Mr. Hawken brought a baseball bat while Mr. Sherer carried pepper spray. The two attacked the homeowners, who fought back. Mr. Hawken ran out of the home while Mr. Sherer was caught and held down until police arrived. Humboldt County Sherriff’s Deputies discovered upon their arrival that Mr. Sherer was unconscious from being held down. He was later pronounced dead; an autopsy revealed asphyxiation as the cause of death. District Attorney Maggie Fleming explained that, “When a person engages in a dangerous, provocative act and a death results, he or she may be held criminally responsible even if the actual killing was at the hands of another.”