Officials in Alabama have dismissed manslaughter charges against a woman who miscarried after she was shot by someone else, her attorneys said Wednesday afternoon.
Marshae Jones, 27, was arrested last week after a grand jury indicted her on manslaughter charges, prompting fierce outcry over claims of criminalizing pregnancy, and triggering a broader debate over the rights of pregnant women in a state with the most-restrictive abortion laws in the country.
Jones was five months pregnant when she was allegedly involved in a fight with a woman who police and prosecutors say acted in self-defense when she fired a gun at Jones in December. A grand jury looked at actions by both women and declined to indict Ebony Jemison, who authorities say fired the shot. The jurors instead returned an indictment for Jones.
At the time of the shooting, police said the alleged fight between Jemison and Jones was over the fetus’s father. Pleasant Grove Police Lt. Danny Reid told AL.com that Jones initiated the fight and that an investigation suggested “the only true victim in this was the unborn baby.”
A lack of details in the convoluted case divided many who sought to assign blame in the fetus’s death, a situation exacerbated by Alabama’s broad manslaughter law, which makes it a felony to “recklessly” cause the death of another person. The manslaughter charge also forced the “personhood” debate back into the headlines — should a fetus be granted the rights of a person, and at what point in the pregnancy?
As news of the grand jury’s decision made national headlines, many decried the indictment and found difficult to imagine how Jones, who also has a young daughter, could be found culpable in the fetus’s death when authorities say she did not pull the trigger.
In the face of mounting public backlash, Bessemer Cutoff District Attorney Lynneice Washington said Wednesday she would not take further legal actions against Jones after reviewing relevant state law and facts in the case. At a news conference, Washington called the case “disturbing and heartbreaking” and told reporters prosecuting Jones was “not in the best interest of justice.”
"An unborn child was tragically lost, and families on both sides of this matter have suffered,’’ Washington said, according to a copy of her comments obtained by The Washington Post. “Nothing we do today or in the future will change that reality.”
Washington said her decision was not a criticism of the grand jury’s decision to indict Jones. The members of the jury, she said, believed someone should have been held accountable for the fetus’s death.
“These citizens took the evidence presented [to] them by the Pleasant Grove Police Department and made what they believed to be a reasonable decision to indict Ms. Jones,” Washington said. “But in the interest of all concerned, we are not prosecuting this case.”
The law firm representing Jones, White Arnold & Dowd, filed a motion to dismiss the charge earlier this week and in a Wednesday statement called Washington’s decision “appropriate."
“We are gratified the District Attorney evaluated the matter and chose not to proceed with a case that was neither reasonable or just,” they wrote. “With the dismissal of charges, the community of support that surrounded Marshae can now channel its immense passion and energy toward ensuring that what happened to Marshae won’t ever happen again.”
Jones’s family is grateful for the outcome but not commenting at this time, the law firm said. Jeff Robinson, a deputy legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union, agreed with Washington’s decision, writing Wednesday that Jones should not have been charged to begin with.
“The DA’s decision represents precisely what we want to see in these critical moments: a prosecutor who is not afraid to use prosecutorial discretion and power to refuse to prosecute when the law and justice demands that charges should be dropped,” Robinson said in a statement.
Alex Horton contributed to this report.