By Lawrence Hurley
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld the conviction of a North Carolina man for causing the death of a 79-year-old woman who died of a heart attack after he entered her home while fleeing police following a botched bank robbery.
On a unanimous 9-0 vote, the court said Larry Whitfield could be prosecuted under a criminal law that penalizes "forceful accompaniment resulting in death" during or after a bank robbery.
Whitfield entered Mary Parnell's home while fleeing from the scene of the failed bank robbery in Gastonia, North Carolina. During the September 2008 incident, Whitfield led Parnell from the hallway of her home to a separate room.
Parnell, who was visibly upset, said she was having trouble breathing, according to court papers.
Whitfield, who was in the house for an hour, spoke by cellphone with a friend who urged him to call an ambulance to help the woman. But he did not call an ambulance, instead fleeing the house on foot before being caught by police while hiding in woods nearby, according to court papers. Parnell died of a heart attack.
Whitfield was sentenced to life in prison over Parnell's death. He was also convicted on other counts relating to the robbery, which were not at issue on appeal.
In Tuesday's ruling, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote on behalf of the court that Whitfield's actions fell within the purview of the law.
"Here, Whitfield forced Parnell to accompany him for at least several feet, from one room to another. That surely sufficed," Scalia wrote.
The case is Whitfield v. United States, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 13-9026.
(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)