Local News

Prosecuting twins' deaths may prove difficult, DA says

Posted July 3, 2008 7:04 p.m. EDT

— 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."