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Prosecuting twins' deaths may prove difficult, DA says

Posted July 3, 2008

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— The prosecutor who sought to seek murder charges against a man who shot and wounded a Warsaw woman pregnant with twins says it could be difficult to prosecute the man for the twins' deaths.

Under North Carolina law, the death of a fetus or unborn child as a result of a violent crime is not considered a homicide unless the babies were alive when they were born and they were viable.

Lisa Wallace was five months' pregnant on May 26 when, authorities say, Gregory Chapman, 22, of 706 W. Hayes St., in Burgaw, shot her outside an apartment complex.

Her twins, Mylichia Shyan Howard and Mychelle Shyann Howard, were born the next day. Duplin County District Attorney Dewey Hudson said Thursday that they lived no more than 20 minutes.

That was enough evidence to charge Chapman on Wednesday with two counts of first-degree murder. But convicting him poses more challenges, Hudson said.

"This is going to be a very difficult case for the state, because although, I have birth certificates and death certificates involving both of the twins, there's an issue in North Carolina of when does life begin and whether or not these twins were in fact human beings," he said.

Doctors said the babies, 19 weeks when their mother delivered them, would not have survived.

However, in the case of slain Camp Lejeune Marine Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach – another case Hudson is prosecuting – the fetus could have lived, he said.

Lauterbach was eight months' pregnant when investigators found her charred remains in the back yard of a fellow Marine, Cpl. Cesar Laurean, in January.

Authorities, however, cannot charge Laurean for the child's death.

"The unborn child, if it had been delivered would have been viable," Hudson said. "That would mean it was far enough along that the child would have lived. But unfortunately, the child was never born, and therefore, there's no law to protect a fetus unless it was born."

Hudson says it's an issue the courts and state lawmakers need to address.

Wallace's and Lauterbach's cases are among a growing number in recent years.

Janet Abaroa was in the early stages of pregnancy when she someone stabbed her to death in her Durham home in April 2005.

Michelle Young was about 20 weeks pregnant when she was beaten to death in her Wake County home in 2006.

Jenna Nielsen was weeks away from giving birth when she was stabbed at a Raleigh convenience store in 2007.

And within the past six months, there have been at least four women, including Lauterbach and Wallace, who have made local headlines when they lost their children due to violence.

"We have no laws in North Carolina to protect unborn children, and it's time for our Legislature to address this," Hudson said. "It seems like we have an epidemic here … and it's time for them to do something to protect unborn children in North Carolina."

Various versions of the bill have failed to pass the General Assembly for the past decade. The most recent versions, Senate Bill 295 and House Bill 263, have stalled.

Those who oppose legislation are worried it will erode a woman's right to an abortion. Another concern for the group is whether the legislation could hold an expectant mother who is a victim of domestic violence responsible for the death of her child because she did not protect it.

"It's something our Legislature needs to address, so prosecutors like me won't have to be trying to deal with this, and we can protect unborn children," Hudson said.

"It's time for them to be aware of all of this," he continued. "I can't imagine how they would not be."


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  • Cricket at the lake Jul 4, 2008

    Jesmyopinion: great analogy. Once you have had a child you understand that life begins at conception. My 6 year old son was once just as big as my thumb nail and now he weighs 60 pounds. Is it logical to say he wasn't a baby when he was that small? (Now lets see if the screaners bump this message for the life begins at conception... comment.) This whole case is wrapped around the abortion issue. If you charge him with murder of the unborn children then it would be illegal to abort hundreds of babies every month in the state. Nobody can ask the aborted babies how they felt about the act. Nobody talks about the horrible guilt women feel after the act. This whole story is so sad. Bless all 3 of the victims.

  • At Work Jul 4, 2008

    Reading stuff like this makes me so angery, he did the crime and now because of a loop hole he might get away with it. This is wrong and like another bloger said he needs to get death. People have no respect and the way people are teaching there kids or lack of it are scarey.

  • Tax Man Jul 4, 2008

    The legislature needs to implement laws to protect the unborn from criminal acts - they can clearly except legal abortions in the law, provided they are done as legitimate medical procedures. This guy needs the 3-drug cocktail for what his has done. Please seek and get the death penalty for this creep.

  • Tired Of Excuses Jul 4, 2008

    Here lately, it seems that it's open season on pregnant women. As wrong as it is to shoot anyone (unless you are your loved ones are in immediate danger or you're trying to stop someone from taking what's yours) I doubt the twins would have made it born at 5 months. Yes, they were "born" but under normal circumstances, doctors would have delayed delivery as long as possible, which in this case it wasn't an option. Because of the action of this man it caused premature birth which resulted in death. He should be charged with something. I would imagine he didn't want to pay child support for 2 kids, much less one which would be a motive for shooting the woman, that is, if the twins were his. Any man who kills the woman pregnant with his children should get more than just a slap on the wrist. Obviously men just don't get it. You will pay if you knock someone up. That's the way it is. It's not meant to be fair and it's for 18 years. Wrap it up or you'll pay.

  • teacher-mom Jul 3, 2008

    I do not see what is so hard about this case. He killed two babies. They would most likely have lived if their mother had not been shot. She would not have been shot if he had not been shooting.

  • Just the facts mam Jul 3, 2008

    The Legislature has more important things to be working on - like putting people in prison for 2 years for displaying a noose. Violence that results in the deaths of unborn children - this is not an important enough issue for them to be working on...