Local News

Victims' families rally in support of fetal homicide law

Posted May 6, 2009 11:57 a.m. EDT
Updated May 6, 2009 3:54 p.m. EDT

— Family members of murder victims spoke out Wednesday in support of proposed legislation that would recognize unborn children as victims in murder cases.

Effie Steele's 21-year-old daughter, Ebony Robinson, was expected to give birth within weeks to her son, Elijah, when her boyfriend shot and killed her in 2007.

"We don’t know if Elijah would have been a president, a doctor, a lawyer or a teacher, because he was not given that chance," Steele said at a rally at the state Legislative Building.

"I felt betrayed his murderer was not charged with double homicide," she added. "He should have been punished with two life sentences, instead of just one."

North Carolina law does not consider the death of an unborn child in a murder case to be a separate homicide. If passed, House Bill 890 would allow the state to prosecute for murder in cases where the child dies as a result of an attack on the mother.

Thirty-five states nationwide recognize an unborn child as a second victim, the bill's sponsor, Rep. Mark Milton, R-Catawba, said at a rally Wednesday. North Carolina is the only state in the Southeast that has not passed such legislation.

Similar versions of the bill have failed to make it past legislative committees because of worries about unintended consequences and questions stemming from a change in the law.

Family members said they are upset with House leaders who, they claim, have never allowed the bill to be heard.

"It's not a pro-choice or pro-life or a partisan bill. There is support from both Republicans and Democrats," said Jeff Gerber, a political activist and founder of the nonpartisan coalition Justice for All.

House Speaker Joe Hackney, D-Orange, said opposition to the bill is based on the state's Injuries Against Pregnant Women law that upgrades a charge if it involves pregnant victims.

Rep. Deborah Ross, D-Wake, chairwoman of a House judiciary committee, said that, with the backing of lawyers groups and domestic violence groups in the state, creating a second and separate offense for unborn victims would put the additional burden on attorneys and families to hold a second trial and provide proof of a second offense.

Families of victims at Wednesday's rally, however, said they have yet to see complete justice.

"It’s murder of a separate human being and should be protected by the same laws as the mother," Steele said. "There are more laws in North Carolina to protect dogs and chickens on the books."

Kevin Blaine, whose pregnant daughter, Jenna Nielsen, was stabbed to death behind a Raleigh convenience store in 2007, said he's been fighting for such legislation for two years.

"How can North Carolina be the only state in the South to not have this law?" he asked. "Are we that far behind? I'm appalled."