Pubdate: Wed, 28 May 2003
Source: Sun News (Myrtle Beach, SC)
Copyright: 2003 Sun Publishing Co.
Note: apparent 150 word limit on LTEs
Author: Rick Brundrett

U.S. Supreme Court


COLUMBIA - An Horry County woman convicted of killing her fetus by using 
cocaine wants the nation's top court to decide her controversial case.

Regina McKnight filed a petition Tuesday with the U.S. Supreme Court asking 
the nine justices to overturn a January ruling by the S.C. Supreme Court. 
The state's top court upheld her 2001 conviction.

"South Carolina alone has said that a woman who has suffered a stillbirth 
can be treated as a depraved-heart murderer, despite the fact that a 
majority of South Carolinians believe that treatment is the proper response 
to drug problems," said Lynn Paltrow of New York, one of McKnight's lawyers.

The odds are long that the U.S. Supreme Court will accept McKnight's case. 
The court receives more than 7,000 petitions per term, and it hears about 
100 cases.

McKnight is serving a 12-year prison sentence - the stiffest penalty, her 
lawyers say, for any S.C. woman convicted of harming her unborn child.

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 at 
between 34 and 37 weeks.

McKnight's first trial, in January 2001, ended in a mistrial. Four months 
later, a jury convicted her after deliberating for about 15 minutes.

In a 3-2 vote, the S.C. Supreme Court said in January that there was 
"sufficient evidence" to convict McKnight. The majority of justices upheld 
an earlier ruling that said a fetus that can survive outside the womb is a 
person under state child abuse and neglect laws.

More than 70 women have been prosecuted statewide since 1989 for using 
drugs while they were pregnant, said Paltrow, executive director of 
National Advocates for Pregnant Women.

Studies show a greater correlation between stillbirths and smoking during 
pregnancy than with cocaine use, Paltrow said.

McKnight's lawyers contend the state Supreme Court's ruling will lead to 
the prosecution of women who could harm their fetuses by smoking, drinking 
or taking prescription drugs. Her petition to the U.S. Supreme Court cites 
public comments to that effect by Horry County prosecutors.

Prosecutors couldn't be reached Tuesday.
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