Feticide charge rejected by BR judge

A Baton Rouge woman who told police she snorted cocaine before giving birth to a stillborn baby has been released from jail after a judge rejected the charge of second-degree feticide.

State District Judge Trudy White said she found no probable cause for Princess Beachem to be held on the felony count, noting the state’s feticide statute does not apply to actions taken by expectant mothers.

“It has to be a perpetrator other than the mother of the unborn child,” White said in a telephone interview Friday. The authorities are “not prohibited from searching the green books and charging (Beachem) with something else,” she added.

District Attorney Hillar Moore III said the finding does not prevent prosecutors from pursuing the case, but he said it was not yet clear which course of action would be taken. “It just means she’s released from her bond,” Moore said.

Beachem’s arrest drew the attention of the New York-based National Advocates for Pregnant Women. Farah Diaz-Tello, a staff attorney for the organization, took umbrage at detectives interrogating Beachem shortly after she had an emergency cesarean section at Woman’s Hospital.

“I was surprised to see that any arrest had been made at all,” Diaz-Tello said. “A lot of law enforcement is not aware of the recommendation of medical experts who all agree that arresting women for the outcomes of their pregnancies is not in the interest of public health. That actually does more harm than good.”

“I want to ascribe the best intentions to these folks,” she added, “but trying to punish women for drug use is not helpful.”

Gene Mills, president of the Louisiana Family Forum, the non-profit advocacy group, concurred with White’s interpretation of the feticide statute but said it would be “irresponsible” to rule out holding pregnant women accountable for drug use.

“We’re dealing with the death of a person that legally is recognized under Louisiana law,” Mills said, noting the fetus was older than 20 weeks. “I do believe criminal negligence is going to rest upon this young lady,” he added, though perhaps in the form of a lesser charge.

Beachem, 32, was taken into custody Nov. 15 after Baton Rouge police determined she was responsible for the death of her 7-month-old fetus. Beachem had been rushed to Woman’s Hospital on Sept. 18, complaining of stomach pains.

Doctors could not hear the baby’s heartbeat and performed an emergency cesarean section, according to an affidavit, and the male fetus was delivered stillborn. Dr. Beau Clark, the parish coroner, ruled the death a homicide.

Detectives questioned Beachem while she lay in intensive care, and she admitted buying and snorting powdered cocaine “because she was upset with the baby’s father for ending their relationship,” the affidavit says.

“Defendant advised she chose powdered cocaine because she was aware that the drug stays in the system for only three days,” the affidavit says.

Clark determined the baby died as a direct result of a “placental abruption” caused by the cocaine use, a detachment that cut off the fetus from its nutrient supply. An autopsy showed no signs of developmental problems in the fetus, he added, meaning the baby had developed normally.

The fetus tested positive for cocaine and Clark said the mother’s drug use “led to a normally healthy baby ending up dying.”

Clark said he thought the circumstances of the case might fit the bill for second-degree murder, but added any charges would be determined by law enforcement. Detectives said Friday that they would “go back to the drawing board” and review other possible charges.

The arrest comes on the heels of another unusual case in East Baton Rouge Parish in which prosecutors charged a man with second-degree murder for allegedly injecting his girlfriend with a deadly dose of heroin. The parish has seen a drastic increase in drug-related deaths this year compared to 2012.

Defense attorney Fred Kroenke took issue with Clark ruling the fetus’ death a homicide, and said he could not think of another charge that could be brought against Beachem. He said it would create a “firestorm of problems” if the authorities began jailing every woman who smoked, drank or used narcotics during pregnancy even as abortion remains legal.