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Indiana Supreme Court declines to drop charges against woman who ate rat poison while pregnant
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) ' The Indiana Supreme Court on Friday declined to drop murder and feticide charges against a woman who ate rate poison while she was pregnant in a case that medical and women's rights groups warn could have larger repercussions.
However, the court's unanimous ruling does allow Bei Bei Shuai to be released on bond, which is rare in murder cases.
Shuai's attorneys contend the Chinese immigrant living in Indianapolis ate rat poison in a suicide attempt, not to kill her baby, and that she was suffering from depression. Prosecutors have said she wanted the baby to die. The baby died three days after being born.
Defense attorneys argued in court documents filed March 9 that prosecuting a woman based on the outcome of her pregnancy violates constitutional rights to due process and equal treatment and is cruel and unusual punishment.
Shuai, 34, lost her bid to have the charges against her dropped when Indiana's highest court declined to hear her appeal. Friday's order let stand a February Indiana Court of Appeals ruling that ordered a Marion County judge to set bond. Shuai was charged in March 2011 and has been jailed since.
Shuai's attorney, Linda Pence, said she was "devastated" that the high court declined to hear the case. "It's horrible. She shouldn't be in jail. She should never have been in jail in the first place," Pence said.
Bryan Corbin, a spokesman for the state attorney general's office, which defended the charges on appeal, emailed a brief statement. "We respect the Court and the process in this difficult case," Corbin said.
A spokeswoman for the Marion County prosecutor's office had no immediate comment.
Several medical and women's rights groups, including the National Organization for Women and the National Alliance for Mental Illness, have filed friend-of-the-court briefs in support of Shuai, claiming that prosecuting Shuai could set a precedent under which pregnant women could be prosecuted for smoking or other behavior that might deemed a danger to their fetus. They said that could discourage women from seeking prenatal care.
"I think there's no reason for her to be locked up in jail. She's not a threat to anybody," said David Orentlicher, a physician and professor at Indiana University's McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis, who wrote one of the friend-of-the-court briefs. "It's very unfortunate that a woman who needs psychiatric care has been in Marion County Jail for more than a year."
Shuai was 33 weeks pregnant when she ate rat poison on Dec. 23, 2010, after her boyfriend broke up with her. Shuai was hospitalized, and doctors tried to treat her for the poison. Court records show doctors told Shuai that they detected little problem with the fetus until days later, when the premature baby girl was delivered by cesarean section Dec. 31. The child, Angel Shuai, died from bleeding in the brain after being removed from life support.
The Indiana Court of Appeals in February ordered a judge to set bond for Shuai, saying her defense attorneys presented sufficient evidence to rebut the murder and feticide charges. But the three-judge panel declined to dismiss the case, saying Shuai had not proven that common-law immunity exists for pregnant women who harm their own fetuses.