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July 31, 2007

Woman charged with murder for stillbirth

A 37-year-old taxi cab company owner from Ocean City, MD has been charged with murder after she sought emergency care for complications of a late-term pregnancy loss.

Christy Freeman initially told doctors that she hadn't been pregnant, but later admitted that she had been. Doctors found 8-9 month placenta in her body with a jaggedly-cut umbilical cord.

Police later searched her house and made an astonishing discovery:

Inside a trunk in the living room, they found the remains of two fetuses in two plastic bags and what appeared to be a placenta in a third bag. In a vanity under the bathroom sink, they discovered a 26-week-old, 2 1/2 -pound stillborn child wrapped in a blood-smeared towel. And in the upper section of a Winnebago parked outside were the remains of a fourth tiny body.

Authorities have charged Freeman, a taxicab company owner, with first-degree murder in the death of the stillborn child found in the vanity, under a law that makes it illegal to kill a "viable fetus." [WaPo]

As if that weren't bizarre enough, the medical examiner has already certified that the fetus she is charged with "murdering" was stillborn. She's up on murder charges because of a 2005 state law that treats the killing of viable fetuses as murder. Yet, that law contains an exception for self-induced abortion:

Joel J. Todd, the state's attorney for Worcester County, said prosecutors believe they know what caused the stillborn to die "in utero." At trial, he said, prosecutors will have to prove that the cause of death was murder, because the law appears to have an exception for self-induced abortion. [WaPo]

Everyone agrees that the fetus was born dead. Yet, Freeman is being charged under the special "fetal murder" law with an exemption for self-induced abortion. By definition, anything she may have done to deliberately kill the fetus would be a self-induced abortion.

This case is going to be sensationalized for all the wrong reasons. I think they're throwing the book at this woman because of the "ick" factor. The real outrage is that a woman is being charged with murder for a stillbirth.

 

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The mere fact that a trial like this was allowed to go forward indicates how backwards and corrupt our legal system is. There is no viable theory of murder in this case, the judge should simply dismiss it.

Well, didn't they find 4 fetuses on her property? Talk about a grey area of the law.

We all need to wait for more truth to come out. Don't count on the MSM to not rush to judgement.

Wait--she was 8 months pregnant with QUADRUPLETS?

Wait and see.

Yes, but was it a stillborn Christian? Those are better than the born again Christians.

keep the US out of my UTERUS.

MK, I agree about not rushing to judgment. There's a lot more to this story, I'm sure. It's possible the investigation will find evidence of other crimes--but there's no way she's guilty of first-degree murder under the "viable fetus" statute.

What I think is unconscionable is that the authorities charged her with first degree murder under their "viable fetus" law. The law has an exception for self-induced abortion. The particular fetus that she is alleged to have murdered has been certified by the medical examiner as stillborn. As far as the demise of that one fetus, there's no question of infanticide. So, we're either dealing with a self-induced abortion, which would be exempt, or an tragic miscarriage.

There's no excuse for laying first-degree murder charges stemming from the demise of that particular fetus.

Here's the law: http://mlis.state.md.us/cgi-win/web_statutes.exe?gcr&2-103

Per it, you can be charged with murder if you do something to the fetus that would get you charged with murder if the fetus were a person, unless you are the mother or a medical professional performing and abortion or providing other health care.

This seems like a pretty commonsensical law to me. I think would clearly be insufficient to charge someone with battery if they delivered a hard kick to the belly of a very pregnant woman.

Do you have the WaPo link? It is unclear to whether or not it was clear to the investigators that the three bodies found were clearly from her.

Oddly enough, given the fact that fundies are behind this dumbass law, the only bibical mention of induced abortion (by striking a pregnant woman) specifies cash compensation, not execution (the punishment for murder).

I'm with you, Lindsay, there has to be more to the story. We're not talking about one fetus, we're talking about four, probably "disposed of" at different times, indicating a habitual pattern of... well, as you say, ickiness.

I added the WaPo link to the original post. Thanks for digging up the statute.

The law says that nothing therein reflects on a woman's right to end her pregnancy. That's very clear.

It's not a crime to show reckless disregard for your own health. If a woman deliberately kills her fetus, she's acting on her right to end her pregnancy. Practicing surgery on yourself isn't a crime, no matter how ill-advised it may be.

So, the woman can't have committed a crime in the course of her self abortion. Therefore, she can't be charged with murder under that "fetal murder" provision.

They charged her with the death of the stillborn in the bathroom. It doesn't say that it was hers. Theoretically she could have been running a back alley abortion operation. That seems highly improbable, but they also might be trying to dig up evidence on the boyfriend or others involved.

One thing is certain: a lengthy stay in prison will be much more helpful to her than any psychiatric care would be.

She's clearly a very level-headed, emotionally stable person who did everything with a rational, calculating demeanor.

/sarcasm

1) They charged first, did the medical exam second. This is not that unusual when you want to move fast.

2) Now that they've got a report that suggests it was stillbirth, they have two choices. They can drop the charges, or go get another medical expert. If the pick the second option, they have to give the first medical report to the defense. But they're not prevented from obtaining a second, unless Maryland has some particular law on the subject that I don't know.

3) They haven't turned on a dime yet. They can smell a successful murder prosecution, have encountered a setback, and are probably looking for ways around it as we speak. I know that's what I'd be doing. That's the job. You find a house with four human remains strewn about it, you search out a way to put someone in jail.

4) That being said, I don't really see how the prosecutor can win the case if they're charging her with killing the fetus. The law is pretty concise. The MD statute on fetal homicide doesn't apply to mothers, under any circumstances. I'd look for the charge to get dropped at some point, either quietly during a later court appearance during prosecution for charges related to the other fetuses, or during plea negotiations related to the same.

Lindsay- reread the law. The relevant clause isn't (d), its (f). You know, the one that clearly and concisely gives mothers blanket immunity for fetal homicide of her own fetus. (d) would only apply if she terminated the pregnancy in accordance with 20-209, which she almost certainly did not.

The health code (20-209) provision basically restates the constitutional right to an abortion (always okay before viability, after viability, for the health and safety of the mother) with the stipulation of reasonable regulations which are left up to an agency (which I assume means it's supposed to be done by MDs under hygienic conditions, etc.).

Good point about the possibility that she performed an abortion on someone else.

"But if she was charged with aborting someone else's fetus, that would imply that all back alley abortions are first-degree murder."

That would be an awfully steep penalty for a successful back alley abortion.

20-209 et seq states that, amongst other regulations, abortions have to be done by doctors.

"But if she was charged with aborting someone else's fetus, that would imply that all back alley abortions are first-degree murder."

That is probably the case.

They also might have just charged first degree so that she couldn't post bail. It sounds like they are doing some disruptive searches for more evidence in and around the property, and they probably want to prevent her from retrieving and destroying said evidence.

No matter how many sets of remains they find, unless she caused the death of one outside the uterus, there's no homicide. What's the maximum penalty for improper disposal of a human body in Maryland?

For those that didn't follow the link, the statute is completely clear:

"(f) Nothing in this section applies to an act or failure to act of a pregnant woman with regard to her own fetus."

So if it was dead at birth, nothing she did gives rise to criminal liability, whether inhaling paint thinner, starving herself, or injecting antifreeze into her uterus. No liability. None.

Further, let me wing a suggestion, though my criminal defense days are well behind me: no reasonable jury oculd find that that the fetus was liveborn when the unbiased medical examiner concluded the opposite unless the ME was bribed or missed absolutely conclusive evidence. Barring those two exceptions, the judge should dismiss the case, at the latest, at the close of the State's proof.

Thomas- if the ME's conclusions are expressed in uncertain terms, and if the state can find a second ME that supports their theory of the case, they could possibly get a conviction.

But you're right, without at least one ME on board, if the fetus was inside her when it died, this particular charge fails.

One of the articles I read on this case included a statement by the prosecutor that they were pressing charges based primarily on a statement from the accused. I wonder what that statement was.

In any case, does improper disposal of a human body apply to a fetus? If that's a personhood right, it doesn't apply in MD.

I'd imagine that improper disposal of a body is a health issue.

Why would it be any more of a health issue than improper disposal of a dead cat?

Yeah. Human tissue can contain more diseases that can infect people than dead cat.

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