Murder Shows Need for Fetal Homicide Law

Special Report - January 28, 2008

A marine accused of killing a fellow service-member who was eight-months pregnant at the time of her death will not face separate charges for the murder of the woman’s unborn child, because North Carolina lacks a fetal murder law. On January 24, Corporal Cesar Laurean, a marine stationed at Camp Lejeune, was indicted by a grand jury for first-degree murder in the death of Lance Corporal Maria Lauterbach, whose dead body was found buried in Laurean’s backyard earlier this month. Authorities are still looking for Laurean, who has been missing from Jacksonville, N.C. since early January and is believed to be in Mexico.

Prosecutors are seeking life without parole in the case. At a press conference announcing the indictment, Onslow County District Attorney Dewey Hudson commented, “In North Carolina, the killing of a viable but unborn child does not constitute murder, therefore I did not submit any bills of indictment involving the death of the unborn child.” According to press reports, Lauterbach’s unborn baby was still in her abdomen when her remains were found.

Despite the obvious fact that two victims were involved in the case, North Carolina’s current fetal homicide statutes prevent prosecutors from treating the murder of Lauterbach and her unborn baby as a double homicide. Under current North Carolina law, it is a crime to inflict injury on a pregnant woman that results in the stillbirth or miscarriage of her child, and perpetrators can be charged with a higher level of penalty for the crime. But the unborn child is only considered a direct victim if he or she is born alive and then dies as a result of the injuries inflicted while in the womb. This “born alive” rule became precedent following the 1968 Supreme Court case of Stetson v. Easterling, when the court awarded damages to the family of a child who died from prenatal injuries only a few months after birth.

During the 2007 Legislative Session, two fetal murder bills were introduced in the North Carolina House and Senate but never saw any action. HB 263—Unborn Victims of Violence would have changed the law to recognize the death of an unborn child as a separate offense if it occurs during the commission of a crime against the mother, including murder, manslaughter, or misdemeanor domestic violence; and the penalty for the death of the unborn child would equal the penalty for the underlying crime. SB 295—Fetal Murder mirrored HB 263, but only applied to cases of murder.

Copyright © 2008. North Carolina Family Policy Council. All rights reserved.