Defense lawyers for a Tucson couple accused of burying the body of a newborn infant in a back yard have filed a plea for dismissal, claiming a premature baby is not a human being.
The body of a 4-pound, nearly full term baby boy was discovered buried inside two buckets, one filled with water, in the backyard of Regina Lockwood's Tucson home, the Arizona Daily Star reported March 14.
Lockwood and friend Nicholi Grimm have each been charged with one count of abandonment or concealment of a dead human body or parts thereof, and one count of conspiracy.
Defense lawyers Natasha Wrae and Tom Norton asked the Arizona Court of Appeals on Tuesday to dismiss the case on the grounds that as a premature baby is not considered a human being, no crime could have occurred.
Appeals Court Justices William Brammer, Peter Eckerstrom and Philip Espinosa responded to Wrae's plea for dismissal with an onslaught of questions, the Star reported.
"If they're not human remains, what are they?" Justice Espinosa asked.
Judge Eckerstrom asked if the remains would not be considered Homo sapiens by anthropological standards, while Judge Brammer suggested that, if not, the remains would be considered part of the mother, and the clients would therefore be guilty of abandoning parts of a human body.
Wrae responded by stating that in order for a fetus to become human it must be born and it must be alive.
Lockwood gave birth to the baby in September 2005 with the help of Grimm, whom police confirmed was not the baby's father. Lockwood claims the baby was stillborn — police records show Lockwood attempted to cause a miscarriage of the boy two months earlier by taking herbs and castor oil. The pair then submerged the body in a bucket of water, placed it inside a second bucket and buried it in the backyard.
Lockwood said the couple could not afford the cost of a proper burial.
A Pima County medical examiner found that the baby was nearly full-term, delivered at about eight months into the pregnancy, and said the child was born naturally with no sign of abnormalities. Doctors were not able to determine a cause of death. It was not possible to tell if the baby was in fact stillborn or if it had been born alive and then died.
While Judge Eckerstrom pointed out that the state requires a death certificate when a preterm child of more than 20 weeks gestation dies, Wrae suggested the death certificate requirement was solely for statistical records and to aid in improving prenatal care.
Deputy Pima County Attorney Jacob Lines said under law the phrase "dead human body" would include the remains of a preterm infant, reminding the court that the medical examiner had found the child to be full term or nearly full term at death.
"Even to discuss this baby as a fetus is odd," Lines stated, saying the issue of whether a fetus was a human body or not could not be addressed by a jury.