EDITORIAL: Start fixing law on Monday

 

DENVER — The Colorado woman accused of cutting a baby from an expectant mother's belly was charged Friday with attempted murder, assault and unlawful termination of a pregnancy — but not murder.

The lack of the more serious charge for Dynel Lane, 34, angered activists and led Republican lawmakers in the state to vow to reopen a charged debate over the point at which a fetus can legally be considered a human being.

The unlawful termination charge was filed under a new law intended to be a compromise between opponents and supporters of abortion rights. The maximum punishment for the felony is 32 years in prison, whereas a person convicted of homicide in Colorado could face the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Boulder District Attorney Stan Garnett announced Thursday that murder wouldn't be among Lane's charges, saying there was no evidence the unborn baby girl lived after being removed from the mother.

The autopsy found "no medical or physical evidence hale baby ever took a breath outside her mother" and that the baby's lungs never inflated, Garnett said.

"On this point, Colorado law is absolutely unambiguous," he said at a news conference as protesters demonstrated outside the courthouse.

Under Colorado law, a person can face a murder charge in the death of a fetus only if there is evidence the baby survived apart from its mother.

Lane is accused of luring Michelle Wilkins, 26, to her home with a Craigslist ad selling baby clothes. Wilkins, who was about eight months pregnant, survived and left the hospital this week.

Lane's lawyer did not comment on the allegations against her during Friday's brief hearing.

The decision not to charge Lane with murder angered some Republican lawmakers in a state that ranks among the 12 without a fetal homicide law. The Legislature voted down such a measure in 2013 over fears it would interfere with abortion rights, and voters overwhelmingly agreed when they rejected a similar ballot measure in 2014.

But Senate President Bill Cadman announced Friday that legislation was being drafted to extend legal protections to unborn children.

"This was a child. A child was murdered," he said in statement. "That Coloradans have no way to hold the murderer responsible, or deliver justice for the victims, is a gap in Colorado's justice system which can no longer be ignored."

Legal experts say a person can still be charged with homicide for an unborn child's death under existing Colorado law if the baby was alive outside the mother's body and the act that led to the death also occurred there.

Lane's charges came the same week California authorities arrested a woman they say masterminded a plot to kill mothers and steal their babies to pass off as her own after telling her married boyfriend she gave birth to his twins.

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