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TWENTY-ONE
LEGAL PUZZLERS

PHIL 22B
Spring 2000

NINE

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9. Love and Death in the Sudan
One dark night, September 11, 1947, Mohamed was going from Bubha village in the Sudan to the village of Meki Beshir to visit his girlfriend. The villages are two miles apart and there is a local superstition that the path between them is haunted. Along the way Mohamed encountered a figure dressed in white. He called out, received no reply and became frightened that the figure was a ghost. He plunged his spear into the figure before him and ran to the village. It turned out that the "ghost" was Hamid Yahya, an old man of 60, who did not hear Mohamed call out since he had a turban wrapped around his ears to keep out the cold. Did Mohamed murder Hamid Yahya?

  Commentary

COMMENTARY

Commentary. Cases from many of the former British colonies, such as India or, in this instance, the Sudan can be both fascinating and revealing because the Bristish left behind a court system that, on the one hand, is similar to our own but, on the other, has to operate within a a totally different culture.

Mohamed is not "making up"his ghost story. People from both villages not only believed in ghosts, they have believed for centuries that the path beteen the two villages is haunted. As in several previous puzzlers, this puzzler is based on an actual case. If you were a member of the jury, how would you decide? Did Mohamed murder Hamid?

Well, (again) accepting the minimal requirement that murder, whatever else we may wish to say, is "the intentional killing of another human being," we can agree (certainly) that Mohamed hurled his spear at Hamid with the intent to kill. So he's guilty of murdering Hamid, no? But wait a minute.

Mohamed did not intend to kill another human being. He intended to kill a ghost. And murder, remember, is "the intentional killing of another human being." Of course, despite his intentions, Mohamed did kill another human being. So, is Mohamed guilty or not guilty of murder?

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