EXPLAINED: Why the suspect in Sgt. Kaila Sullivan’s death wasn’t immediately charged with capital murder

Tavores Dewayne Henderson, 21, is wanted in connection with the Dec. 10, 2019 death of Nassau Bay Sgt. Kaila Sullivan. (Images from HCSO, FBCSO, Nassau Bay PD) (Images from HCSO, FBCSO, Nassau Bay PD, KPRC)

HOUSTON – Prosecutors on Wednesday filed a charge of felony murder against the suspect in the death of Nassau Bay police Sgt. Kaila Sullivan.

Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg told KPRC 2 the reason for a felony murder charge rather than a capital murder charge was time.

“As soon as the incident happened, our lawyers were notified by officers on the scene," Ogg said. “With the preliminary evidence we had, we issued a warrant under felony murder because that was the fastest thing to get into the system so that all lawmen around Texas could be aware that he was a wanted fugitive.”

Felony murder vs. Capital murder

So what’s the difference between the two charges? KPRC 2 legal analyst Brian Wice provided these answers:

Type of crime

  • A felony murder is committed when, in the course of committing any felony other than manslaughter or lesser form of manslaughter, death is the result. The underlying felony provides the required mental state for the commission of the crime of felony murder.
  • Capital murder is committed when a murder occurs during the course of certain felonies (aggravated sexual assault, aggravated robbery, aggravated kidnapping) or when the victim is a peace officer acting in an official capacity. This charge can also be applied in murder-for-hire cases, in a case where there are multiple victims or if the victim is a child under the age of 10.

Sentence range

  • If convicted of felony murder, a person faces between 5 and 99 years or a life sentence. It can also include a $10,000 fine, Wice said.
  • Capital murder carries the possible punishments of life in prison without parole or the death penalty.

Prosecutors can upgrade a felony murder charge to a capital murder charge based on evidence and investigations, Wice said.