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Will Senators Graham and Nelson see the second victim?

Mar 18, 2004 | Two Victims

Point-of-View
Published March 18, 2004

by Douglas Johnson
Special to Florida Baptist Witness
Like so many victims of violent crimes, Lisa Dyke and her son, Julius, were just at the wrong place at the wrong time.

On January 26, 1993, Lisa, age 18, was with Julius, babysitting at a friend’s apartment in Wilton Manors (Broward County). Ronnie Keith Williams – a convicted knife-murderer, recently released because of prison overcrowding – came to the door looking for someone who wasn’t there. Williams took out his displeasure on Lisa and Julius. He stabbed them a total of 18 times with a 15-inch knife. He also raped Lisa and repeatedly bit her.

Bleeding profusely, Lisa pretended to be dead until Williams left, then managed to call 911. She suffered greatly for 19 days before she died.

The doctors saved Julius’ life, but for 11 years he has suffered from profound disabilities resulting from the crime. He is dependent on a respirator and a feeding tube. He cannot walk. He moves his eyes, but does not speak. His grandmother, Margaret Coakley-Dyke, loves Julius dearly and has devoted her life to his care.

Recently, a Broward County jury convicted Williams of the murder of Lisa Dyke. (An earlier conviction was reversed on a technicality.) “Jurors in Williams’ trial were not allowed to learn about Julius because he was not legally a victim of the crime and his presence might have prejudiced them,” reported the Miami Herald.

Julius was “not legally a victim of the crime” – because when Williams launched his frenzied attack with that terrible blade, Julius Dyke was still an unborn child. He was born two days after the attack.

The legal invisibility of Julius Dyke illuminates the debate that is rapidly intensifying in Congress and in the halls of many state legislatures. It centers on this question: When a criminal attacks a pregnant woman, injuring or killing both her and her unborn child, has he claimed one victim, or two?

Twenty-nine states recognize an unborn child as a crime victim in at least some circumstances, but some of these laws have wide gaps. Under Florida law, for example, if Williams had killed Julius outright, it would have been manslaughter, but this law did not apply to Julius because he survived.

It is even worse under federal criminal law, in which an unborn child is simply not recognized as a crime victim at all. Federal criminal laws apply to federal lands, tribal lands, military bases, and maritime jurisdictions. They also cover a host of specific acts, including acts of violence associated with interstate stalking, major drug activity, and terrorist attacks.

Under a bill soon to be voted on in the U.S. Senate, the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, a criminal who injures or kills a “child in utero” during commission of a federal or military crime will be charged separately for the harm he does to this second victim. (The House of Representatives passed the bill on February 26, 254-163. President Bush supports the bill.)

The bill explicitly exempts abortion. Nevertheless, abortion-rights advocacy groups assert that it conflicts with Roe v. Wade. U.S. Senators Bill Nelson and Bob Graham support Roe, but it appears that neither senator yet has taken a definitive position on the bill. They should consider:

-None of the 29 state fetal homicide laws have had any impact on abortion.

-Federal and state courts across the nation have upheld these laws against all legal attacks.

-In three national polls, about 80% of the public supports fetal homicide charges.

The abortion – rights advocacy groups insist there is really only one victim – the pregnant woman. They are backing a “substitute” bill sponsored by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), which would increase penalties for crimes against pregnant women, but also write into federal law the doctrine that the pregnant woman is the only victim.

This “single-victim” doctrine has been sharply challenged by members of families who have lost loved ones – born and unborn – in crimes of violence. For example, Sharon Rocha, whose daughter Laci Peterson and unborn grandson Conner were killed in a crime that has become the focus of enormous national attention, wrote, “There were two bodies that washed up in San Francisco Bay, and the law should recognize that reality.”

In effect, a vote for the Feinstein Substitute would be a vote to say that there is no such thing as an unborn victim – and therefore, that Ronnie Keith Williams claimed only one victim on January 26, 1993.

Before Senator Nelson and Senator Graham vote to write that cold doctrine into federal law, however, they should think long and hard about Julius Dyke, who bears on his body the marks of Williams’ blade, but whom neither the law nor the jury could see.

Johnson (legfederal@aol.com) is legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee in Washington, D.C. (http://www.floridabaptistwitness.com/www.nrlc.org). An abridged version of this article first appeared in the March 7, 2004, edition of The Miami Herald.

Categories: Two Victims