Local News

Pregnant Marine's slaying draws renewed support for fetal homicide law

Posted April 21, 2009 12:33 a.m. EDT
Updated April 21, 2009 12:50 a.m. EDT

— The slaying of pregnant Camp Lejeune Marine Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach has sparked renewed support for a state law that would protect unborn children.

Cpl. Cesar Laurean is charged with first-degree murder in the December 2007 death of Lauterbach, whose charred remains were found a month later in a shallow grave behind his Jacksonville home. Lauterbach was seven months pregnant at the time of her death.

The death of Lauterbach and her unborn child, whom the family named Gabriel, has elicited an unprecedented level of anger among area residents, Onslow County Sheriff Ed Brown said.

"It appears to me that the murder of Gabriel incites the unbelievable desire for vengeance from the people," he said. "People also relate to me their anger and shock that North Carolina does not have a law to protect the life of an unborn baby who is murdered."

Current North Carolina law does not consider the death of an unborn child in a murder case to be a separate homicide. Sen. Doug Berger, D-Franklin, would like to change that. He says he believes the unborn fetus has value that should be protected.

"There is a value in that life that is developing and that should be valued and recognized,” Berger said.

Berger is sponsoring a bill that would upgrade a charge against anyone who attacks a pregnant woman, causing her to lose her baby. If the mother is beyond 20 weeks into her pregnancy, or the assault is associated with domestic violence, the attacker would face a separate charge.

Berger says the bill is intended to combat domestic violence, but he knows not everyone will be happy with it.

"I think the interest groups on both sides oppose this legislation,” Berger said.

When similar bills have been introduced, various women's rights and pro-choice groups spoke against it. Opponents said they worry that a pregnant woman could be held responsible if she doesn't protect her fetus from an abuser. Others argue the bill could step on the abortion debate.