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Teen boy charged in abortion
He faces 15-year felony, but girlfriend avoids charges in alleged baseball bat beating
PUBLISHED: January 5, 2005
By Chad Halcom
Macomb Daily Staff Writer
A 16-year-old Richmond Township man may appear before a juvenile court referee on a felony charge as early as today, after prosecutors authorized charges in a bizarre abortion-by-baseball bat incident with his girlfriend last fall.
In a case that promises to challenge some fundamental Michigan laws and opinions about abortion and assault, Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith on Tuesday authorized a 15-year felony charge of intentional conduct against a pregnant individual causing miscarriage or stillbirth.
Court officials had notified his attorney and family of the decision by the time the school day had concluded at Armada High School, and attorneys on both sides are still working out a time for him to appear on a juvenile appearance hearing similar to arraignment.
Because of his age and lack of any prior criminal record, prosecutors elected not to charge him as an adult and his name is being withheld by The Macomb Daily.
"I can only enforce the law as written, aside from my feelings," Smith said of the decision to charge the male, but not the female, for a series of beatings where the two were trying to end her 6-month pregnancy. "The law as it's written specifically states that the pregnant mother is excluded from prosecution in these cases."
Michigan State Police investigating the case have said the young couple sought options to end her pregnancy last fall, but could not obtain an abortion under Michigan law without consent from one of her parents.
That apparently led to a series of secret sessions over a 2-week period where the male beat the female's abdomen with a 22-inch souvenir-style bat until she bled and expelled the fetus in October. The fetus was discovered buried in Richmond Township in November.
Afterward, the mother of the male teen and perhaps one other parent of the young couple were involved in a backyard burial of the fetus. Officials only became aware of it when the girl mentioned the events while attending a student leadership conference in the Upper Peninsula; the conference facilitator notified state police.
"Both the mothers were involved afterward. But the problem was, if the fetus or the child was viable, it would be unlawful disposal of a body. But if isn't viable, then what they buried isn't technically a body," Smith explained.
"The moral and ethical conduct here is disappointing to say the least, and the actions the students and the families chose to take is enough to make me sick."
Macomb County forensic pathologist Daniel Spitz said Tuesday he determined the fetus was roughly 25 weeks along in development at the time of death, "give or take a period" of several days. Michigan law generally prohibits abortion after the 24th week of pregnancy without a significant health concern at play, but Spitz still said he felt the fetus wasn't viable at the time of delivery or miscarriage.
"Viability is not a cut-and-dried kind of thing. Have there been fetuses delivered this early that lived? Sure, that's happened," he said. "But it's more like a percentage and a likelihood, and the fact is not many at this age survive without some heroic amount of efforts to save it."
Spitz said he determined that the cause of death was premature delivery caused by blunt force trauma to the mother's stomach "based on the totality of evidence and what we know" about the abortion. But he said no bruising or trauma to the fetus' body itself could be found and wouldn't occur without severe damage to the mother's body as well.
A medical examination and a toxicology screening for drugs or medication also were unable to determine any other possible cause of death.
"Toxicology was essentially a complete negative," he said. "There was nothing of any significance found that would have been a factor."
Smith and Michigan State Police Detective Sgt. Patrick Young both indicated that each of the teens has confessed during questioning to working together on the abortion, and there appear to be no holes or flaws in their story. Young said he expected an arrangement with the boy's family and attorney to turn himself in within the next week or two.
"He has already come in for (finger)printing, and the process is kind of like an arrest," he said. "Now his parents are being notified about coming in to appear in court."
Smith said no plea bargains or lesser crimes are under consideration, and the male teen can expect either to plead guilty as charged or face a trial. If a trial does take place, Smith said, the female teen can expect to be a witness in the case and police have a record of her admissions in the investigation.
Prosecutors are applying a section of the state's 1999 Prenatal Protection Act to prosecute the teen -- the same act used to charge former attorney Michael J. Fletcher with assault on a pregnant woman causing miscarriage in the August 1999 shooting death of his pregnant wife, Leann. But that charge was dismissed from the case in 2000 after an Oakland County judge found insufficient medical evidence to sustain it.
Miranda Massie, a defense attorney retained by the family in the case, said Tuesday she was surprised by the decision to charge the young man and there will be several legal challenges ahead.
Massie specializes in civil rights-based cases, and was previously an attorney in Macomb County for Tabitha Larkin in a 1997 assault case that stemmed from a racially charged melee in Sterling Heights.
"The prosecutor is not making the best use of his discretion in choosing to charge this case. It's no way to address the problem of teen pregnancy, and it's no way to address the tragic outcome of this situation," Massie said. "It's a true exercise of wasting resources of the county taxpayers to choose to go forward with this case."
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