State’s attorney will prosecute Maryland’s first fetal homicide case

A married Baltimore County man accused of killing his pregnant girlfriend will become the first person prosecuted under Maryland’s new fetal homicide law – a move applauded by a Catholic lobbyist and a medical professional.

After a grand jury handed down an indictment of two counts of first-degree murder for David L. Miller, 24, of Hillendale July 3, Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott D. Shellenberger announced he would personally prosecute the case – with aid from an assistant state’s attorney.

Traditionally, state’s attorneys in large metropolitan counties spend little – if any – time in the courtroom.

“I decided to handle the Miller case myself because of the important and novel legal issues involved,” said Mr. Shellenberger, who was elected to his office last year. “This is, to my knowledge, the first murder prosecution for the death of a fetus since the (Maryland) legislature enacted the statute permitting such prosecutions. Since this is the first prosecution of its kind, I thought it important to handle myself.”

Mr. Miller is accused of shooting Elizabeth C. Walters, 24, who was reportedly seven months pregnant with his child, in a parked car in a Parkville shopping center lot June 11.
The 2001 graduate of The Catholic High School of Baltimore and her unborn daughter died and her friend, Heather Lowe, 24 – who was also shot during the June 11 attack – identified Mr. Miller as the shooter, according to a police report.

“It’s a good step forward, especially for the protection of pregnant women,” said Dr. Louis C. Breschi, vice president of the National Catholic Medical Association. “By prosecuting someone for the death of a fetus, you are telling anyone who intends harm to a pregnant woman they will be held accountable for the harm they do to that woman and the baby.”

The fetal homicide law was passed by the Maryland General Assembly in 2005, following a vigorous campaign of support from the Maryland Catholic Conference, the legislative lobbying arm of Maryland’s Catholic bishops.

Untested so far in the state’s courts, the law allows charges to be brought for murder or manslaughter of a viable fetus – one that could live outside of the womb.

“The medical examiner’s report contained sufficient facts about the fetus that led me to conclude that we have sufficient evidence to proceed with the charge of fetal homicide,” Mr. Shellenberger said.

It’s estimated that Ms. Walters – a popular waitress at Baltimore’s Charles Village Pub, whose parents are parishioners of St. Michael the Archangel, Overlea – was between 26 and 28 weeks pregnant, within the reasonable presumption the baby could have survived outside of the womb, said Dr. Breschi, a practicing urologist at Franklin Square Medical Center in Rosedale.

“It’s good to see (Mr. Shellenberger) is doing his job – not only for this woman who clearly chose to have this baby – but also for her child,” said Nancy Fortier Paltell, associate director for the Respect for Life department of the Maryland Catholic Conference.

Catholic Review

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.