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February 08, 2007

AP Spins: "Texas Man Gets Death For Killing Fetus"

There may be more to this story. It is possible, I guess, that the prosecutors did not, for reasons I could not even begin to guess at, charge the man for murdering the mother, chosing instead to make its case on the death of the fetus she carried.


But I see here a headline that tells me a man got the death penalty for killing a fetus, and yet he was only convicted with one count of capital murder.

Pardon me for suspecting he was actually convicted of killing the teenaged mother, and that AP is spinning this as an assault on abortion rights.

Texas Man Gets Death for Killing Fetus

Associated Press Writer

SAN ANTONIO (AP) -- A former youth pastor was sentenced to death Wednesday for killing a teenager and her fetus in what is believed to be the first such order in Texas, the nation's busiest death penalty state.

Adrian Estrada, 23, was Mb>convicted Friday of one count of capital murder for the death of Stephanie Sanchez and the fetus, of which he was the father.

If he was convicted in the death of the fetus, why is there only one count of capital murder, and why does the story say he was convicted for "the death of Stephanie Sanchez and the fetus"?

Wouldn't that be two counts of capital murder, if in fact he'd been convicted of killing the fetus at all?

"This is a significant case," said Bexar County prosecutor Susan Reed. "This is significant for the state."

A 2003 Texas law amended the definition of the word "individual" to include an "unborn child at every stage of gestation from fertilization until birth."

The death sentence is Texas' first in the death of a fetus, said Dave Atwood, founder of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, which monitors capital cases.

Sanchez, 17, was three months pregnant Dec. 12, 2005, when her body was found in her family's home. She had been choked and stabbed 13 times. During the trial, DNA evidence was presented to show Estrada was the father.

Estrada, a former youth pastor for a church, admitted to the stabbing the day after the killings. Prosecutors also said he worked out at a gym and went shopping after the crime. He showed no emotion when his punishment was read.

I'm guessing -- the AP's slapdash reportage compels me to guess -- that the death of the fetus was used as an intensifier to make him eligible for the death penalty. A "special factor" or whatever it's called in Texas that can make a murder a capital murder.

As such special, death-qualifying factors typically include "murders committed for economic gain" -- a rather broad category, embracing quite a few murders -- it hardly seems to be unreasonable that a murder involving a pregnant woman would also appear on the laundry list of death-qualifying offenses.

In any event, he wasn't "convicted" for killing the fetus, nor is he getting the death penalty "merely" for killing a fetus.

Thanks to RobG.

A Texas Cop... named Kmack puts me some information:

The DA was commenting on the fact that this was the first trial where the option of life without possibility of parole was offered as an alternative to death in a Capital case.

The fetus had nothing to do with anything in this case.

What a suprise that the media picks a headline that has nothing to do with the real story.

Find the San Antonio news on the web and watch the interview with the DA.

I can't find the story he's talking about, but this older story makes it plain that capital murder was proven under the provision for causing multiple murders:

SAN ANTONIO -- A former youth minister was found guilty Friday of fatally stabbing his teenage girlfriend and her unborn daughter.

Jurors deliberated for about an hour before returning their verdict against Adrian Estrada, who was a pastor at El Sendero Assembly of God church.

His girlfriend, Stephanie Sanchez, also a member of the church, was three months pregnant when prosecutors said Estrada killed her at her home in December 2005.

During closing arguments, prosecutor Scott Simpson demonstrated to the jury how he thought Estrada killed Sanchez.

"This is for that baby that caused me all this trouble," Simpson said.

But defense attorney Suzanne Kramer told jurors that the defendant should not be convicted of capital murder because he didn't intend to kill the fetus.

"The law with death of multiple persons is that he has to have separate intent and conscious desire to cause Stephanie's death and not incidental that the baby was going to die," Kramer said.

So the AP story is sort of true -- the death penalty was sought under the multiple-murder special provision, for which purposes the intentional death of a fetus is a satisfactory circumstance -- but it hypes, overstates, and spins the story as being a sentencing only for the death of a fetus.

And this background could, rather easily, have been included in the AP dispatch -- at least, it could have been, had it not so thoroughly undermined the "metanarrative" of abortion-rights-under-fire it was trying to sell.

And, of course, they could also include the other death-qualifying provisions in the Texas code, among which is almost certainly a murder caused for economic gain, just to let the public know that this isn't some super-special selective imposition of the death penalty only for the purpose of protecting fetuses.

When you read a state's death-qualifying provisions, you come away wondering, "Well, what in hell won't qualify you for the death penalty?"

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posted by Ace at 05:50 PM

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