LONGMONT, Colo. (AP) — A Longmont woman accused of luring an expectant mother to a basement and cutting the baby from her belly might not face homicide charges in the child’s death because of the way criminal law in the U.S. has become entangled in abortion politics.
In a highly charged debate that has played out across the country, Colorado has twice rejected proposals to make the violent death of a fetus a homicide, refusing to join 38 other states and the federal government for fear such a law would be used to restrict abortions.
That could complicate things for prosecutors in the case against Dynel Lane, 34, arrested in the grisly attack at her home Wednesday on a nearly eight-months-pregnant Michelle Wilkins. Wilkins survived; her baby girl died.
“Under Colorado law, essentially no murder charges can be brought if the child did not live outside of the mother,” said Stan Garnett, district attorney of liberal Boulder County.
Keith Mason, the president of Personhood USA, an anti-abortion group that has been pushing for a fetal homicide law in Colorado, called the situation “literally absurd.”
Lane remains in jail for now on suspicion of attempted murder and other crimes.
Attorneys and activists said the key issue will be whether the baby was alive outside the mother and whether the act that led to the death occurred outside her body. Lane’s attorney, Kathryn Herold, asked that a defense expert be present during the autopsy on Friday.
“In this particular case, the cause of death is going to be essential,” Herold said.
Fetal homicide laws have typically been promoted by abortion foes and opposed by abortion rights supporters, who fear such measures could be a backdoor way to attack the right to terminate a pregnancy.
Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee, rejected that notion, saying: “Some of them have been in existence for 30 years, and they haven’t had any impact on legal abortions.”
In New Hampshire last week, the Republican-controlled legislature passed bills that would make the state the 39th to classify the violent killing of an unborn child a homicide. The state’s Democratic governor, Maggie Hassan, a staunch abortion rights supporter who may run for the Senate in 2016, has refused to say whether she would sign them.
Colorado Democrats rejected a GOP fetal-homicide bill in 2013. And voters defeated a similar ballot measure, 65 percent to 35 percent, last fall.
“The issue we were wrestling with is how you can hold offenders accountable and have some semblance of justice and not interfere with a woman’s reproductive rights,” said Democratic state Rep. Mike Foote, who is also a prosecutor.
Foote helped push through a law allowing extra felony charges against anyone who commits a crime that causes the death of a fetus. The law can add up to 16 years to a prison sentence; the top penalty for homicide in Colorado is the death penalty or life in prison.
Wilkins, 26, went to Lane’s home in response to a Craigslist ad offering baby clothes. Lane had been telling her family recently that she was pregnant, according to court records.
Her husband told investigators that when he came home early from work to meet her for a prenatal appointment, he found her covered in blood and a baby gasping for breath in a bathtub.
Lane told her husband she had a miscarriage, and he took her and the baby to a hospital, where the child was pronounced dead, authorities said. The Boulder County coroner completed an autopsy on Friday but said the cause and manner of the baby’s death require more investigation.
Wilkins managed to call 911 about 2 1/2 hours after she entered the Lane home, and police arrived after the couple had left. Investigators found her on a bed in a pool of blood.
By SADIE GURMAN and NICHOLAS RICCARDI, Associated Press… Jennifer Farrar of the Associated Press’ News Research Center in New York and Kathleen Ronayne in Concord, New Hampshire, contributed to this report.
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