Stiffer penalty for feticides thanks to 2009 Indiana state law

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Two days after a newborn baby was found dead in a Mishawaka shopping plaza dumpster, police have pinned its mother with the crime.

Around 9 p.m. Monday, St. Joseph County Metro Homicide investigators arrested Purvi Patel, 32, of Granger, on suspicion of feticide, a Class B felony.

The charge is rarely filed in the state of Indiana, and therefore widely unheard of. However, according to Indiana code 35-42-1-6, it's described as:

"A person who knowingly or intentionally terminates a human pregnancy with an intention other than to produce a live birth, or to remove a dead fetus."

Under the parameters of a Class B felony, an Indiana judge can sentence a defendant anywhere from six to 20 years in state prison, with an advisory sentence of ten years.

The penalty of feticide is much harsher today than it was just four years ago, and that's all because of an Indianapolis bank robbery.

In April 2008, Katherin Shuffield was working at a Huntington Bank branch on Indy’s east side. It was a quiet day until a masked gunman, later identified as Brian Kendrick, 30, jumped through Shuffield’s teller window, shooting her once in the abdomen. While Shuffield survived the encounter, the twin girls she was five months pregnant with did not.

"I touched my leg and I saw there was a lot of blood. Then I said, ‘well please help me, you shot me and you shot my babies!’ He didn't let anybody do anything because he was more worried to take the money,” Shuffield said during a hospital press conference shortly after the incident.

At the time, feticide was considered a Class C felony in Indiana, meaning Kendrick couldn't be sentenced to more than eight years in prison, per count.

In response to Shuffield’s tragedy, Indiana State Senator Jim Merritt (R) of District 31 authored a 2009 bill to raise feticide from a Class C to a Class B felony. At that time, Merritt’s district butted-up to the intersection where the bank robbery occurred.

"With the way we shuffle people into the department of corrections and out, he [Kendrick] could’ve been out in a year because of good time served. I just didn't believe that was enough time for him to sit and think about what he did,” Sen. Merritt said Tuesday during a phone interview with NewsCenter 16.

Merritt said despite burning pro-life and pro-choice viewpoints, both sides of the aisle saw the importance of a stiffer penalty. During the third reading in the House of Representatives, there was a vote of 96-0. The final reading in the Senate brought a vote of 44-2. Former Gov. Mitch Daniels signed the bill into law shortly thereafter.

"Senate Bill 236 in 2009 sailed through the legislature. It understood those twins were human beings and that they were killed. We were able to come away with a stronger law and kudos to both sides for that,” Sen. Merritt remarked.

Now four years later, St. Joseph County Metro Homicide investigators still won't confirm the sex of Patel’s deceased baby. They also won't reveal if she gave birth to a full term or premature child.

Formal charging documents will be released Wednesday prior to the 32-year-old’s 1:30 p.m. arraignment at the St. Joseph County courthouse in South Bend. That paperwork should clarify many unknowns.

"There are so many different efforts going on that this should not happen, and if it does happen, I think a Class B felony is the right approach because you are committing murder,” Sen. Merritt added.

In addition to Indiana, 37 other states, including Michigan, have fetal homicide laws on the books. The exact legal verbiage varies by state, but each fetal homicide statute carries a sentence with jail or prison time.

To read more about all 38 states’ legal stance on feticide,click here.