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County May Test Va. Fetus-Killing Law

By Ian Shapira
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 16, 2005; Page PW01

A Prince William County murder investigation could be Virginia's first test case for a new law that makes it a felony to kill a fetus, according to the Virginia Attorney General's Office.

Jorge Vazquez-Hernandez, 22, has been charged with first-degree murder in the slaying of Rosa Isabel Umana, 30, a clerk who was five months pregnant when she was stabbed while working at the Rosita Shop near Georgetown South in October. Prince William County prosecutors said they are considering presenting evidence to a grand jury next month to indict Vazquez-Hernandez in the death of Umana's unborn child under Virginia's new feticide charge.

The law, which took effect July 1, empowers prosecutors to seek harsh penalties for killing a fetus, regardless of premeditation. Under the law, prosecutors can seek a separate charge for the premeditated killing of a fetus, a felony that carries a sentence of 20 years to life in prison. Without premeditation, the charge carries five to 40 years in prison, said Tim Murtaugh, a spokesman for Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore (R).

"We feel the people of Virginia have a right to demand that a horrible crime like that be deemed a separate crime unto itself," Murtaugh said.

Scott Bailey, an assistant commonwealth's attorney for Prince William County, said investigators are still determining whether Vazquez-Hernandez killed the fetus with premeditation. He said Vazquez-Hernandez and Umana did not have a relationship but might have known of each other.

Last week, Harry Sepulveda, a Prince William jail officer, testified in a General District Court hearing that Vazquez-Hernandez told him that he killed Umana because every time he visited the store she followed him to see whether he was stealing. Vazquez-Hernandez said he "got mad and opened a knife" and stabbed her, Sepulveda said.

Manassas police Detective Edwin Rivera testified that Vazquez-Hernandez said after being arrested that he didn't remember what happened inside the store and that he "just went crazy." According to police, Vazquez-Hernandez said the bloodied knife recovered at the shop was his.

Rivera happened to be near the store Oct. 11 when he heard a woman scream. He investigated and saw Vazquez-Hernandez rush from the store and run away. Then he saw a bloodied Umana stagger outside.

Police arrested Vazquez-Hernandez three blocks away.

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