Manslaughter Charge Dropped Against Alabama Woman Who Was Shot While Pregnant

Prosecutors in Alabama said on Wednesday that they were dropping a manslaughter charge against Marshae Jones over the death of the fetus she was carrying when she was shot in the belly.

The case stirred outrage across the country in late June after a grand jury indicted Ms. Jones, who was accused of starting a fight that resulted in the shooting. The state recognizes a fetus at any stage of development as a “person” for criminal homicide or assaults.

The same grand jury declined to charge the woman who fired the shot, Ebony Jemison, finding that she had fired in self-defense during an altercation with Ms. Jones on Dec. 4. The police have said that Ms. Jones, 28, who was five months pregnant, started the fight and failed to remove herself and her fetus from harm’s way.

“We are gratified the district attorney evaluated the matter and chose not to proceed with a case that was neither reasonable nor just,” the law firm representing Ms. Jones, White Arnold & Dowd, said in a statement.

Lynneice Washington, the district attorney for part of Jefferson County, said in a news conference, “After viewing the facts of this case and the applicable state law I have determined that it is not in the best interest of justice to pursue prosecution of Ms. Jones on the manslaughter charge for which she was indicted by the grand jury. Therefore, I am dismissing this case and no further legal action will be taken against Ms. Jones in this matter.”

She said the decision not to prosecute Ms. Jones was in no way a criticism of the grand jury. “The citizens took the evidence presented them by the Pleasant Grove Police Department and made what they believed to be a reasonable decision to indict Ms. Jones,” she said. “The members of the grand jury took to heart that the life of an unborn child was violently ended and believed someone should be held accountable. But in the interests of all concerned, we are not prosecuting the case.”

Ms. Washington, a Democrat, who became Alabama’s first black female district attorney when she was elected in 2016, had signaled earlier that she might drop the charges.

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The police initially charged the second woman, Ms. Jemison, with manslaughter in the death of the fetus. That charge was dismissed after the grand jury failed to indict her.

At the time, the police said Ms. Jones’s “involvement and culpability” would be presented to a grand jury to determine if she, too, should be charged.

“When a five-month pregnant woman initiates a fight and attacks another person, I believe some responsibility lies with her as to any injury to her unborn child,” Lt. Danny Reid of the Pleasant Grove Police Department said then. “That child is dependent on its mother to try to keep it from harm, and she shouldn’t seek out unnecessary physical altercations.”

Abortion rights activists, already up in arms over Alabama’s recent adoption of the most restrictive anti-abortion law in the country, assailed the indictment of Ms. Jones as a demonstration of the dangers of the “personhood” movement, which presses for laws like those in Alabama that give the rights of fetuses equal or greater weight than the rights of the women who carry them. An organization that supports abortion rights in Alabama, the Yellowhammer Fund, helped Ms. Jones post bail.

But the case provoked little outrage in Pleasant Grove, the city of 10,000 people on the western edge of Birmingham where Ms. Jones was shot.

[Why people in Alabama defended the arrest of Marshae Jones after her fetus died in a shooting.]

According to a law enforcement officer with direct knowledge of the investigation who spoke on the condition of anonymity, Ms. Jones and Ms. Jemison, 23, had been feuding over a man they both worked with. The officer said that Ms. Jones spotted Ms. Jemison in the parking lot of a Dollar General store in Pleasant Grove on Dec. 4 and started fighting with her.

Ms. Jones had hit Ms. Jemison several times and pinned her in her vehicle, the officer said, when Ms. Jemison reached for a gun and fired point blank into Ms. Jones’s stomach.

The uproar over the indictment of Ms. Jones is not the first time that the application of Alabama’s fetal rights laws has attracted criticism and concern.

Alabama has prosecuted hundreds of women for using controlled substances while they are pregnant, under a 2006 “chemical endangerment” law, according to an investigation by ProPublica and Al.com. Doctors have argued that such prosecutions discourage pregnant addicts from seeking the treatment that they and their fetuses need.

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