Utah Supreme Court Considers Definition of Unborn Child

Utah Supreme Court Considers Definition of Unborn Child

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Stacey Butler reporting The case of a Layton, Utah, man accused of shooting and killing his ex-wife and her unborn baby could set a legal precedent, over how to define the term fetus and when it may be considered a child.

Today the Utah Supreme Court heard arguments in the case.

Michael Macguire was charged with two counts of first degree murder for shooting his-ex wife and her unborn fetus to death.

That was January 15, 2001, and since that time the case has been on hold. Until today.

It was argued at the University of Utah College of Law before the Utah Supreme Court.

Roger Macguire walked into an insurance office in Layton and shot his ex-wife, Susan Macguire, four times in the stomach area. She was four months pregnant.

Macguire was charged with two counts of capitol murder.

According to the Utah homicide statute, killing any human being, including an unborn child, is prohibited.

But Macguire's defense argued that the statute is unconstitutionally vague and doesn't define when a fetus is considered a person---and asked that the second capitol murder charge be dropped.

Defense attorney Scott Wiggens said, "The statute under which he was charged doesn't define whether, or at what stage, an unborn child becomes a person for purposes of being charged with criminal homicide."

"Make the Legislature live up to their obligation of creating and passing clear and specific statues," Wiggins told the court at the end of his arguments.

The prosecution argued that the two aggravated murder charges should be upheld.

Chris Ballard of the Attorney General's Office said, "The prosecution maintains that the statute was sufficiently clear to inform Mr. MacGuire that when he shot Susan MacGuire in the stomach when she was pregnant, that he was killing two people."

Ballard said lawmakers have defined "unborn child" in state laws that require expectant mothers to receive literature about fetal development before an abortion.

"Any life in the womb from conception to birth" is considered an unborn child regardless of the fetus' viability outside the womb, Ballard said. MacGuire had "a specific intent to kill her and it's clear the defendant caused the death of an unborn child."

It's up the Utah Supreme Court justices to decide. It's an uncommon move in the legal community, and one that could set a legal precedent in years to come.

"It's quite seldom that the Utah Supreme Court will grant such an appeal and interupt the case and allow that issue to come up and be argued, while everything just stops at the trial court," Wiggins said.

It will likely take the Utah Supreme Court three to six months to make a decision. Only then will the case go to trial.

Prosecutors had said in charging documents that they will seek the death penalty, but they have since revised that to life in prison without parole, said Bill McGuire, Davis County deputy county attorney.

(The Associated Press contributed to this story)

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