A 27-year-old woman in Alabama whose fetus died after she was shot in the stomach was charged with manslaughter by a grand jury. But the county district attorney said she may not face prosecution.
Police in Pleasant Grove, Alabama, near Birmingham, say Marshae Jones initiated a fight in December 2018 with Ebony Jemison, 23, according to AL.com. The fight was over the baby's father.
During the altercation, Jemison shot Jones in the stomach, which resulted in the fetus' death. The case went to a grand jury in the Bessemer Division of Jefferson County, according to the county’s district attorney. The jury determined that Jemison acted in self-defense, declining to bring charges against her.
But it indicted Jones on manslaughter on the basis that she initiated the fight.
Pleasant Grove police Lt. Danny Reid told AL.com at the time of the shooting that “the investigation showed that the only true victim in this was the unborn baby.”
“It was the mother of the child who initiated and continued the fight which resulted in the death of her own unborn baby,” Reid said.
Jones was taken into custody Wednesday and released on bail Thursday, according to NBC affiliate WVTM.
On Thursday night, the county prosecutor said it is reviewing the case.
District Attorney Lynneice Washington said in a statement, “While the Grand Jury has had its say, our office is in the process of evaluating this case.” Washington said her office is deciding whether to prosecute Jones on manslaughter, reduce the charge to something less severe or not prosecute Jones at all.
“The fact that this tragedy was 100 percent avoidable makes this case even more disheartening,” Washington said.
Jones’ case drew national attention after AL.com first reported on the story Tuesday, with the charges against her sparking criticism from women’s rights groups.
“The person with the gun is the one responsible for the loss of the fetus,” Toni Van Pelt, president of the National Organization for Women (NOW), said to NBC News in a statement.
Lynn M. Paltrow, executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, echoed those sentiments.
“The argument is that by becoming pregnant, a woman commits a crime if she puts herself in danger in any way,” Paltrow said. “Alabama has numerous anti-abortion laws and a constitutional amendment that declares separate rights for fertilized eggs and fetuses. They have been using those laws to hold women criminally liable for the outcome of the pregnancies.”
Washington said in her statement this case is unrelated to Alabama's most recent abortion law that virtually bans the procedure.
“This case predates the passage of the legislation, and we must point out the new law played no role in the consideration of the Grand Jury,” Washington wrote.
The district attorney emphasized, "Fairness and justice are the driving principles for this office. The public can rest assured that we will be guided by those principles in this case.”
Still, Van Pelt and Paltrow say Jones’ case is representative of larger problems.
“Alabama and its authorities have once again proven that they do not care about women and this is another case of the inappropriate aggressive response law enforcement makes towards women of color,” Van Pelt said.
Paltrow added that Alabama leads the nation in “arrests for women being pregnant,” and her research shows that the state's laws particularly target black women, like Jones.