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Violence Intersects Lives of Promise

In the hours that followed, Fludd's grandmother stood in the dark, with Fludd's 7-year-old son and a gathering crowd of shocked relatives and friends. It was difficult for anyone to imagine: Fludd had been shot. She was dead. Who would fire on a pregnant woman in her own bed? There was no sign of a break-in.

Over time, some would think back to the tension about her pregnancy. It still did not make sense, they thought. "I just don't understand," Brenda Coleman, Fludd's sister, said not long after she was killed. Marshall "didn't have to have anything to do with the baby."

Shirlita Colon's mother, Tawana Colon, right, and sister, Tysha Colon, talk with Catina Edwards, left, at court in the District while awaiting the sentencing of Donte Allen in Shirlita's killing. (Juana Arias -- The Washington Post)

_____About This Series_____

The Toll: Researchers are just beginning to discover what has been a hidden risk of pregnancy: Pregnant women and new mothers are more likely to be victims of homicide than to die of any single natural cause, several statewide studies have shown.

The Victims: As public health experts focus new attention on homicide during pregnancy, the Washington region has become a focal point. Research rarely casts light on the lives of those who were slain or how violence entered their lives at such a pivotal time.

The Legacy: The tragedy of maternal homicide lingers in the lives of children left behind, some of them born as their mothers were dying. Older siblings sometimes witnessed the violence. The children often must be raised by their grandparents.

Video: Recovering at Ceeatta's House
Photo Gallery: The Missing Stories
Photo Gallery: Caring for a Lost Daughter's Son
Maternal Homicide in D.C. Area
_____From The Post_____
Mending Shattered Childhoods (The Washington Post, Dec 21, 2004)
Bittersweet Childhoods of Love and Loss (The Washington Post, Dec 21, 2004)
States Add Penalties For Death of Unborn (The Washington Post, Dec 20, 2004)
Many New or Expectant Mothers Die Violent Deaths (The Washington Post, Dec 19, 2004)
Researchers Stunned By Scope of Slayings (The Washington Post, Dec 19, 2004)
How the Series Was Reported (The Washington Post, Dec 19, 2004)
_____For Information or Help_____
National Domestic Violence Hotline, 1-800-799-SAFE
D.C. Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 202-299-1181
Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence, 301-352-4574
Virginians Against Domestic Violence, 804-377-0335
_____Message Boards_____
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Shortly after the killing, police interviewed Marshall on videotape for nearly three hours. He did not confess but presented a portrait of his life and hers and how the pregnancy had put them at odds. He said his relationship with Fludd was a friendship that became sexual. "She was never my girlfriend . . .," he said. "But she was my friend."

The two had known each other for years, he said -- having met in the D.C. neighborhoods that Fludd had moved away from as a teenager. He knew her cousin, her mother, her sisters. They were together once, back in 1999, but then he was sent to prison on drug and weapons charges. When he was released, in fall 2002, they got together again.

Fludd, he said, helped him buy clothes and get back on his feet.

For a number of months, they talked or saw each other daily. Fludd was the stable one -- with her own apartment, her job, her kids. Marshall had a job, lost it, fell back into drugs, worked at a basketball gym. He had a number of other girlfriends. By the time Fludd knew she was pregnant, they were still talking but no longer intimate.

On the videotape, he recalled their discussion about the pregnancy. "I told her I didn't really need a child right now. . . . I said it would hurt your life, and it would hurt mine right now. We both have two kids. . . . And she was like, well, yeah, but she wanted to have the baby."

Marshall told police that in previous years he had argued against having each of the two children he already had. "I got two kids," he told the detectives. "I didn't want the first one. I didn't want the second one."

From Fludd's position, the pregnancy looked very different. She had not intended it, she told her friends, but neither did she want to end it. She confided to one friend that a doctor had advised her of medical problems that might preclude her from ever having children again. When she became pregnant by Marshall, "she felt like it was meant to be," the friend said.

The weekend she was killed, Marshall had called her to suggest they talk about the pregnancy again, Fludd told her friends.

While Fludd was at home that night in her apartment, Marshall went to a late-night party in the District. Witnesses told police that he slipped away for at least an hour. Police obtained records of his cell phone calls, which showed Marshall making calls as he drove north toward Columbia.

In the back seat of his rented car, prosecutors would later say, Marshall carried a "murder bag" packed that Saturday -- an extra pair of Timberland boots, a black hooded sweat shirt, jeans, latex gloves and a .22.

When Marshall -- nicknamed "Bird" -- returned to the District, he recounted the killing to his roommate. In court, the roommate testified that Marshall said he approached Fludd as she lay in bed. He asked her if she was sure the baby was his. When she said yes, he raised his gun.

"Bird! No!"

He shot her in the face.

In court, a jury listened to a taped recording of Marshall talking about the killing to his roommate, who had been wired by police with a hidden recording device. Marshall boasted of his own "genius" in setting up the crime. "I wasn't even close enough to . . . get little splashes on me," he said.

Prosecutor Todd Taylor told a jury of eight men and four women: "He wanted to prevent her from having the child she desperately wanted to have" and "move on with his life without the inconvenience of having another baby, another child to support."

Two months ago, a jury convicted Marshall of first-degree murder. Sentencing was set for January.

Fludd's grandmother trembled visibly in the courtroom, surrounded by 11 relatives and friends. She is raising Fludd's son, now 9; Fludd's daughter, now 6, is with her father. "We got justice," she said quietly afterward. "That's all we wanted, and we got it. Shameka can rest in peace."

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