Charges dropped against woman who miscarried after being shot in stomach
World / 4 July 2019, 06:58am / Jenny Jarvie, Los Angeles Times
Bessemer, Alabama - Marshae Jones, an Alabama woman who was indicted for the death of a foetus after she was shot in the stomach during a fight, will not be prosecuted for manslaughter.
In an extraordinary case that has drawn widespread national scrutiny, Jones, 28, was arrested last week after a grand jury charged her in May with one count of manslaughter for "intentionally" causing the death of her unborn baby by "initiating a fight knowing she was five months' pregnant."
After evaluating the facts and applicable laws, Lynneice O. Washington, district attorney for the Jefferson County Bessemer Cutoff, said at a news conference Wednesday that she had decided to dismiss the case, which she described as "disturbing and heartbreaking."
"An unborn child was tragically lost, and families on both sides of this matter have suffered," she said.
"The issue before us is whether it's appropriate to try to hold someone legally culpable for the actions that led to the death of the unborn child. ... I have determined that it is not in the best interest of justice to pursue prosecution of Ms. Jones."
Washington, a Democrat who became Alabama's first black female district attorney in 2016 by a narrow margin of 299 votes, could have prosecuted Jones for manslaughter or brought a lesser charge.
In a sign of how fraught the case was in this conservative Deep South state, pastors from a string of Alabama churches stood beside Washington as she announced to reporters she was dropping the prosecution.
Jones was not available for comment Wednesday, but her legal team said it was pleased with the decision.
"We are gratified the District Attorney evaluated the matter and chose not to proceed with a case that was neither reasonable nor just," lawyer Mark White said in a statement. "The District Attorney's decision will help Marshae continue to heal from this tragic event and work to rebuild her life in a positive and productive way."
Reproductive rights advocates had cited Jones' case as an alarming consequence of the advance of the "personhood" movement, a wing of the anti-abortion movement committed to extending rights to the fetus.
Last November, Alabama voters passed a ballot measure amending the state's constitution to recognize the "sanctity of unborn life and the rights of unborn children" - a move that grants the fetus rights that could be weighed against the rights of a pregnant person, potentially leading to punishment against women or medical providers.
Two months ago, Republican Governor Kay Ivey signed a law that bans abortion at all stages of pregnancy, even in cases of rape or incest, and punishes doctors caught performing the procedure with up to 99 years in prison. The American Civil Liberties Union and other groups have challenged the law in court.
Nia Martin-Robinson, director of black leadership and engagement for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said she was grateful that Washington had dropped the charge.
"We must ensure that this doesn't happen again," she said in a statement. "Prosecuting someone for being the victim of a violent crime is not only alarming - it signals an intent to target and criminalize black pregnant women. Laws that criminalize pregnancy are dangerous and they strip people of their right to reproductive health care and assistance that is free of state interference. Everyone deserves autonomy over their bodies, decisions, and futures."
According to local law enforcement officers, Jones started the altercation with another woman, Ebony Jemison, last December outside a Dollar General store in Pleasant Grove, a small town about 10 miles west of Birmingham. Jemison allegedly shot Jones in the stomach and Jones suffered a miscarriage shortly after.
At the time of the shooting, local law enforcement officers made statements emphasizing Jones' responsibility for protecting the fetus.
"Let's not lose sight that the unborn baby is the victim here," Pleasant Grove Police Lt. Danny Reid said, according to the news website AL.com. "She had no choice in being brought unnecessarily into a fight where she was relying on her mother for protection."
In early May, Jones was indicted on one count of manslaughter by a grand jury in the Bessemer Division of Jefferson County.
After Jones was arrested and posted $50,000 bail last week, the district attorney's office was quick to emphasize that the decision to bring charges against Jones was made not by the DA's office but by a grand jury after the actions of both women were presented at the same time.
On Tuesday, Jones' attorneys filed a motion to dismiss the case, citing her indictment as "unreasonable, irrational and unfounded."
They argued that Alabama law does not permit the prosecution of a woman for manslaughter in relation to her unborn child, and that the state had "improperly" expanded criminal statutes by creating a new crime of "transferred intent manslaughter."
"It defies reason and logic to believe that Ms. Jones should have known that Ms. Jemison would use deadly physical force against her and thereby cause the death of her unborn child," the motion said.