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Woman who cut baby from womb potentially faces more than 100 years in prison, DA says

A Colorado woman who police say admitted cutting a fetus from a stranger was charged with attempted murder on Friday. The coroner reported an autopsy showed no evidence the unborn child survived. (Video: Reuters)
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Dynel Lane, the Colorado woman accused of attacking a pregnant woman and removing a 7-month-old fetus from her body, was charged with eight felonies by the Boulder County District Attorney’s office on Friday, including attempted murder and the unlawful termination of a pregnancy.

Lane stabbed 26-year-old Michelle Wilkins after Wilkins answered a Craigslist ad offering baby clothes, police said last week. Although Wilkins survived, the baby died as a result of the attack. Lane will not face murder charges for the death of the fetus.

The felony charges are first-degree attempted murder (which includes two sentence enhancements), two counts of first-degree assault, two counts of second-degree assault, and first-degree termination of a pregnancy, according to the DA’s office. The attempted murder charge alone carries a possible sentence of 16 to 48 years. The unlawful termination of a pregnancy charge has a possible sentence of 10 to 32 years. 

Boulder County District Attorney Stanley Garnett said in a Friday news conference that he spoke with Wilkins’s family earlier. They told him that the baby was going to be named “Aurora.”

Acknowledging that “a lot of people” wanted him to file homicide charges against Lane for the death of the fetus, Garnett said that those charges were “not possible under Colorado law without proof of a live birth.” Garnett said that Lane faces a “long time” in prison if convicted, potentially more than 100 years. 

“Aurora was still, but her mouth was open and she was not breathing,” Garnett said. Investigators examined whether the baby’s lungs had inflated, he added. “They had not,” he said.

“At this time neither the autopsy or the investigation have provided any evidence that the baby exhibited any signs of life outside of the womb, therefore the circumstance is not being considered a live birth,” The Boulder County Coroner’s office said in an emailed statement on Friday, based on the preliminary results of an autopsy performed last week.

“No evidence of trauma or injuries were found on the body,” the statement continues. The office will release final autopsy results when the investigation is finished, which could take six to eight weeks.

[Horrific attack on pregnant woman prompts debate over Colorado’s fetal homicide laws]

Wilkins traveled to Lane’s home on March 18 in response to a Craigslist ad offering baby clothes, according to Longmont police. At some point after Wilkins arrived, Lane attacked her, stabbing her several times in the stomach with a knife and a piece of broken glass, police said. They said Lane then cut Wilkins’s 34-week-old fetus from her body.

Wilkins was left in the basement of the home, critically injured. Lane, meanwhile, placed the baby in the upstairs bathroom of her home, police say.

The arrest report describes what David Ridley, Lane’s husband, said he saw when he arrived at the house to take his wife to a prenatal appointment:

He arrived home and walked down the stairs towards the basement. As he did so, Dynel walked around the corner covered in blood. She told David she just miscarried and the baby was in the bathtub upstairs. David ran upstairs to the bathroom and found a small baby lying in the bathtub. He rubbed the baby slightly then rolled it over to hear and see it take a gasping breath.

However, on Friday, Garnett said that the witness later clarified that the baby was “not breathing.”

Ridley and Lane drove with the fetus to a nearby hospital. Hospital staff told police the baby “was approximately seven months old and would have been viable.”

Wilkins called 911 from Lane’s basement, directing police to her location. Despite her injuries, Wilkins was able to describe some details of the attack to police and to the 911 dispatcher.

Wilkins was released from the hospital earlier this week. She “is taking the first tentative steps along a long journey towards recovery and spiritual reconciliation,” her family said in a statement. They’ve also established a GoFundMe account for her and her partner, Dan.

Lane was arrested at the hospital by Longmont police on suspicion of attempted first-degree murder, first-degree assault and child abuse knowingly or recklessly resulting in death, but the DA’s office has emphasized that formal charges against her could be different.

Last week, Garnett said that if Lane wasn’t charged with murder, she could face felony charges under the state’s unlawful termination of a pregnancy statute.

Lane’s husband is not a suspect in the investigation, police have said.

Colorado is one of several states that doesn’t allow murder charges for the death of a fetus.The horrific attack on Wilkins has rekindled an ongoing debate in the state over how prosecutors can pursue charges in crimes where a fetus is killed.

As recently as last year, some groups have proposed “personhood” amendments to Colorado’s constitution. The 2014 proposed amendment would have changed the definition of “person” to include fetuses in the state’s criminal code, but was rejected by more than 60 percent of voters. Earlier attempts to pass slightly broader “personhood” amendments in previous election years have also failed in the state.

Those attempts to  include fetuses in the criminal code’s definition of a person pitted some reproductive health advocates against many anti-abortion groups championing the proposals. The 2014 measure’s supporters said that the amendment would simply fix a gap in state law pertaining to the prosecution of fetal homicides and had nothing to do with the state’s abortion laws. Opponents argued that the measure was too broad, and could have implications for future abortion access in the state.

A preliminary hearing in the Lane case has been scheduled for May 5.

[UPDATE: This post has been updated multiple times since its original publication at 9:56 a.m. Additionally, a map of state fetal homicide laws was removed to avoid confusion. The underlying data, from the National Conference of State Legislatures, included states with enhanced penalties for crimes that resulted in the death of a fetus, in addition to those that treat such crimes as murder.]

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