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One victim of two in Bangor homicide?

Feb 24, 2004 | Two Victims

Portland (ME) Press-Herald
February 24, 2004

By Douglas Johnson

Just over a year ago, 20-year-old Heather Fliegelman Sargent was found dead of multiple stab wounds in her home in Bangor. She was eight months pregnant, and her unborn baby boy died with her. Heather’s husband, Roscoe Sargent, is awaiting trial on one count of murder.

“That Heather Sargent was pregnant did not affect the charges brought against her husband,” the Bangor Daily News reported (Jan. 10, 2003). “No matter how advanced the pregnancy, Maine’s homicide law does not apply to unborn fetuses.”

Another News story (Jan. 21, 2003) added this troubling detail: “Police also reportedly found several dead cats at the home. Whoever killed the cats could face charges under the state’s animal welfare act, while no charges will stem from the death of the unborn baby.”

Currently, laws in 28 other states allow a homicide prosecution for the killing of an unborn child. Of these, 15 apply throughout pre-natal development, and 13 apply beginning at some specific point defined in law. All 28 would apply in a case such as the Sargent slaying.

And under a bill soon to be voted on by the U.S. House and Senate, the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, if a pregnant woman is a victim of a federal or military crime, and the criminal injures or kills her unborn child, the prosecutor could bring a second charge on behalf of the unborn victim.

The bill explicitly does not cover any abortion for which lawful consent is given, or any action by a woman that harms her unborn child. Despite those exclusions, the bill faces a close vote in the Senate because of opposition from abortion-rights advocacy groups. These groups insist that a crime such as the Laci Peterson killing in California or the Sargent killing has only a single victim – the pregnant woman.

Asked about the Sargent case, Ruth Lockhart, executive director of a Bangor clinic that provides abortions, said that a “person who assaults or murders a pregnant woman must be treated and prosecuted like a person who assaults or kills a woman who is not pregnant,” the News reported (Jan. 21, 2003).

This position has been sharply challenged by many family members of victims of such crimes, such as Carol Lyons of Kentucky, whose 18-year-old daughter Ashley and unborn son Landon (21 weeks gestation) were murdered together on Jan. 7 of this year.

“Nobody can tell me that there were not two victims – I placed Landon in his mother’s arms, wrapped in a baby blanket that I had sewn for him, just before I kissed my daughter goodbye for the last time and closed the casket,” Lyons said.

President Bush, too, has said that he believes that such crimes have two victims and supports the bill. At least three national polls show that about 80 percent of the public agrees that such cases should be charged as double homicides.

The abortion-rights advocacy groups claim that fetal homicide bills conflict with Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion. Yet, in none of the 28 states with fetal homicide laws have those laws had any impact on abortion. There have been more than a dozen major legal challenges to state fetal homicide laws, and in every case, federal and state courts have ruled that these laws do not conflict with Roe.

However, Congress is also considering a competing proposal backed by abortion-rights groups and sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.

This “Feinstein Substitute” would increase penalties for federal crimes in which a pregnant woman is a victim, but it would also write into federal law the doctrine that such a crime has only a single victim.

If it passes and a mother survives such an attack, she will be told, “We can prosecute your attacker for assault, but not murder – the law says nobody died.”

This “single-victim” proposal drew a sharp challenge from Sharon Rocha, whose daughter Laci Peterson and unborn grandson Conner were slain in California in December 2002. Laci’s husband, Scott Peterson, is charged with double homicide in that crime.

In a letter to senators, Rocha wrote that the single-victim proposal “would be saying that Conner and other innocent victims like him are not really victims – indeed, that they never really existed at all. But our grandson did live. He had a name, he was loved, and his life was violently taken from him before he ever saw the sun.”

Rocha concluded, “(T)here were two bodies that washed up in San Francisco Bay, and the law should recognize that reality.”

– Special to the Press Herald

Copyright © 2004 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.

Categories: Two Victims