Pubdate: Sun, 20 May 2001
Source: Age, The (Australia)
Copyright: 2001 The Age Company Ltd
Author: Jeffrey Collins, Associated Press


A woman has been convicted and sentenced to 12 years in prison for
killing her unborn child by using crack cocaine during her pregnancy.

The verdict marks the first time a woman in the United States has been
found guilty of homicide after taking drugs during pregnancy, an
advocate for the defendant claimed.

The case also opens the door for prosecutors to charge women with
neglect under other conditions, such as smoking during pregnancy, said
Wyndi Anderson, executive director of the South Carolina Advocates for
Pregnant Women.

A jury found Regina McKnight, 24, guilty after deliberating just 15
minutes. She could have faced a life sentence. McKnight's lawyers said
they would appeal.

South Carolina's Supreme Court ruled in 1996 that a viable foetus is
considered a child. McKnight's baby was stillborn in 1999 at 35 weeks.

"The state needed to press forward because a child ended up dead,"
prosecutor Bert von Herrmann said. "She smoked cocaine as much and as
often as she could ... if that's not extreme indifference to life, I
don't know what is."

But defence lawyer Orrie West said the brief deliberations indicate
the jury punished McKnight because she was a drug addict.

"Given almost all of the trial involved complex medical testimony, I
don't think the jury weighed it like they should," Mr West said.

The defence said an inflammation of the placenta, which could have at
least two causes other than drug use, killed the foetus.

This was McKnight's second trial; a mistrial was declared in January
after two jurors used the Internet to look up medical information.
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