Monday, September 1, 2008

Law named for slain Laci Peterson, unborn son, yet to be tested

McClatchy Newspapers

Washington--Some gruesome killings could put Laci Peterson's legal legacy to the test.

In 2004, after a high-profile trial, a jury in San Mateo County, Calif., convicted Peterson's husband, Scott, on two counts of murder. The victims were Laci Peterson, eight months pregnant, and her unborn son, Conner.

Congress commemorated the slain California woman by passing the controversial Laci and Conner's Law and creating a new federal crime of killing an unborn child.

Supporters said the measure would fill a law enforcement loophole.

"Police and prosecutors ... have shared the grief of families, but have so often been unable to seek justice for the full offense," President Bush said at the time.

The rhetoric was emphatic on all sides. The bill was a lifesaver, supporters said. It would undermine women's rights, opponents feared.

In calculating the consequences of Laci and Conner's Law, however, the jury is still out.

So far, Bureau of Justice Statistics databases don't show any federal prosecutions under the law, also known as the Unborn Victims of Violence Act. Supporters of the law say they haven't heard of any.

The apparent absence of federal prosecutions undercuts Bush's claim that prosecutors had "so often" been blocked from seeking justice until the law was passed. Moreover, most homicide prosecutions occur in state, rather than federal, courts.

Several recent military homicides could be prosecuted under the federal statute, but they probably won't be.

In North Carolina, Army Sgt. Edgar Patino Lopez is charged with murdering 23-year-old Megan Touma, a pregnant Army specialist with whom he allegedly was having an affair. Touma's body was found in a Fayetteville motel in June.

Six months earlier, officials found the burned body of Marine Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach. Lauterbach, too, was pregnant when she was killed, and her body was placed in a shallow grave near North Carolina's Camp Lejeune Marine Corps base. Marine Cpl. Cesar Laurean is in Mexico awaiting extradition in the case.

North Carolina isn't among the 35 states that have fetal homicide laws. There's no indication that either Touma or Laurean will be prosecuted under the federal law.

But counting prosecutions isn't necessarily the only measure of legislative impact.

See the whole article.

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