Pubdate: Sat, 13 Jan 2001
Source: Post and Courier (SC)
Copyright: 2001 Evening Post Publishing Co.
Contact:  134 Columbus Street Charleston, SC 29403-4800
Author: Associated Press
Bookmark: (Ferguson v. City of Charleston)


CONWAY - The trial of a mother accused of killing her unborn baby with
crack cocaine was declared a mistrial Friday after two jurors admitted
they researched the case on the Internet, said Circuit Court Judge
James E. Brogdon Jr.

Regina D. McKnight, 23, was charged with homicide by child abuse and
distribution of crack cocaine after she gave birth to a stillborn
35-week-old fetus in May.

McKnight could receive life in prison if convicted.

South Carolina's Supreme Court has ruled that a viable fetus is
considered a child and causing it to ingest harmful drugs constitutes
child abuse.

State prosecutor Bert von Herrmann said he plans to retry the case.
"The state alleges and feels like she has killed her child," he said.
"We are not concerned with setting policy for the state. We have a
child that is dead here and that is most important."

Phone calls to McKnight's attorney, Orrie West, were not immediately
returned Friday.

Jurors deliberated late Thursday until Brogdon sent them home, amid
signs the panel was having trouble reaching a verdict. Several times
during deliberations, the jury asked for clarifications on the charge.

During the trial, medical experts testifying on McKnight's behalf said
they could not be sure if cocaine caused the fetus's death or if
cocaine was found in her system. The doctors also said an inflammation
in McKnight's placenta could lead to two diseases that may have caused
the fetus's death.

But a pathologist for the state testified the fetus was dead one or
two days before Mercedes - the name a nurse gave the baby - was
delivered and the death was caused by McKnight's drug use.

The McKnight case is one of several cases in courts around the country
that have debated charging a mother for abuse of her unborn child.

In October, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments by pregnant women
in Charleston who said their privacy rights were violated when their
drug test results were turned over to police. No ruling has been made
on the case.

In Ohio, the state Supreme Court has ruled that a baby born addicted
to cocaine because of his mother's drug abuse is an abused child under
Ohio Law.

In Georgia, a woman is awaiting trial on murder charges in the death
of one her twin daughters days after her birth. Prosecutors said
taking cocaine during her pregnancy caused her daughter's death.

Advocates for women's rights say cases such as these only deter women
from seeking prenatal care and treatment for their addiction.

"No woman should fear that if she becomes pregnant and suffers a
stillbirth she will be put on trial for murder," said Wyndi Anderson,
director of the South Carolina Advocates for Pregnant Women. "The
response to pregnancy and drug use should be treatment not punishment.
The response to a stillbirth should be compassion, not
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