Pubdate: Tue, 28 Jan 2003
Source: State, The (SC)
Copyright: 2003 The State
Author: Rick Brundrett
Bookmark: (Women)


Justices Rule Regina McKnight is Guilty of Homicide By Using Cocaine That 
Killed Her Fetus

A sharply divided S.C. Supreme Court on Monday upheld the conviction of an 
Horry County woman charged with killing her fetus by using cocaine.

In a 3-2 vote, the state's top court said there was "sufficient evidence" 
to convict Regina McKnight of homicide by child abuse and that her 
constitutional rights have not been violated.

In siding with the state, the three justices upheld an earlier ruling that 
says a fetus that can survive on its own outside the womb is a person under 
child abuse and neglect laws.

The majority opinion was written by Associate Justice John Waller, who was 
joined by Chief Justice Jean Toal and Associate Justice E.C. Burnett.

The two dissenting justices -- James Moore and Costa Pleicones -- said 
state lawmakers never intended pregnant women whose fetuses died to be 
charged with homicide by child abuse.

They said McKnight's punishment was much harsher compared with a woman 
convicted of having an illegal late-term abortion. Women who have illegal 
abortions face a maximum two-year prison sentence.

McKnight has been sentenced to 12 years in prison -- the stiffest penalty 
for any South Carolina woman convicted of harming her unborn child, her 
lawyers say.

McKnight was devastated by Monday's ruling, said her lawyer, C. Rauch Wise 
of Greenwood.

"When I left her, she was crying with the chaplain," he said.

McKnight was "too shocked" to discuss an appeal, he said.

Greg Hembree, the 15th Circuit solicitor, said he wasn't surprised. "It's a 
victory for children, and it's a victory for responsible parents who take 
care of their kids."

The ruling opens the door to prosecuting women who could harm their fetuses 
by smoking, drinking or taking prescription drugs, Wise said. Hembree said 
his office would consider only illegal drug-use cases.

At least 72 women have been prosecuted statewide since 1989 for using drugs 
while they were pregnant, said Lynn Paltrow of New York, one of McKnight's 
lawyers. No other state has followed South Carolina in the past five years, 
she said.

"What (Monday's ruling) says is that the first and only response to people 
with addiction problems is costly punishment," she said.

McKnight was charged with homicide by child abuse after she gave birth to a 
stillborn, 5-pound girl May 15, 1999. The baby's age was estimated between 
34 and 37 weeks.

McKnight's first trial in January 2001 ended in a mistrial. A jury 
convicted her four months later.

The S.C. Supreme Court next week will consider whether the trial judge 
should have thrown out a related charge of distribution of cocaine.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Alex