Pubdate: Wed, 28 May 2003
Source: State, The (SC)
Copyright: 2003 The State
Author: Rick Brundrett


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, though it hears only 
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 between 
34 and 37 weeks.

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

In a 3-2 vote, the S.C. Supreme Court said in January 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.

In her petition to the U.S. Supreme Court, McKnight said her constitutional 
rights were violated, including her right to procreate and the ban on cruel 
and unusual punishment.

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.

About 500 South Carolina women suffer stillbirths annually; another 200 
women give birth to babies who die within the first 28 days, Paltrow said. 
The cause of death often is unknown, she said.

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 in January 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.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Larry Stevens