There is not a law in Colorado that would let prosecutors charge Chris Watts with homicide for killing his wife’s unborn child.
No law exists in the state of Colorado to charge someone with homicide for killing an unborn baby.
Chris Watts was arrested by Frederick police on Wednesday after allegedly admitting to killing his pregnant 34-year-old wife and their two young daughters. He’s being held on suspicion of three counts of first-degree murder and three counts of tampering with a dead body.
The District Attorney will have to make the final call on charges and has until 3:30 p.m. on Monday to make that call.
While there will be no charges for fetal homicide in the case of Shanann Watts’ 15-week pregnancy, Chris Watts may face a lesser charge – but one that’s still a felony.
First, an answer to the question of why Chris Watts won’t face a possible fourth murder charge for the death of Shanann’s unborn child. According to 9NEWS legal analyst Scott Robinson, Colorado does not recognize an unborn child at any stage as a person for the purposes of its murder statute.
“So, the easy answer is no. The father of the unborn child cannot be charged with murder relating to the unborn child,” Robinson explained. “It’s Colorado law. It’s subject to change, but as things currently stand, an unborn child is not a person for the purposes of our murder statute.”
He went on to explain that because Chris Watts faces three murder charges – all of which carry life without the possibility of parole, it might not make too much of a difference since he would never get out of prison if he was convicted on any of the three charges.
“The question of, ‘Can you be charged with murder for an unborn child?’ comes up every single time there is a homicide that involves a pregnant woman and the child dies along with the mother,” Robinson said. “It’s not an issue that’s going to go away but it isn’t necessarily an issue that’s going to be resolved any differently 10 years from now than it is today.”
Robinson said that it would take state lawmakers to change the law. But, he added, they would get into difficult terrain and have to decide when, exactly, human life begins for the purposes of the murder statute.
“Thus far,” he continued, “our lawmakers have not been willing to go into that morass of difficult decisions.”
While Chris Watts can’t – at this moment – be charged with a fourth count of murder for the death of his unborn child, the District Attorney could decide to charge him with Unlawful Termination of a Pregnancy. According to Robinson, Colorado has had this law on the books since July 1, 2013.
According to State Statute 18-3.5.-104, a person commits the offense of unlawful termination of a pregnancy in the second-degree if the person knowingly causes the unlawful termination of the pregnancy of a woman. A first-degree charge would need the prosecution to prove he intended to terminate her pregnancy.
Robinson called the law bizarre and said its language follows very closely to the language of the murder statute.
An attempt to put a ‘fetal homicide’ law on the books after a Longmont mom-to-be had her unborn child cut out of her failed in 2015.
Dynel Lane, 35, was convicted of several charges after the attack, including attempted first-degree murder and unlawful termination of a pregnancy. She was sentenced to 100 years behind bars.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, a bipartisan nongovernmental organization dedicated to helping state legislatures, the debate of fetal homicide laws toes the line of the debate over abortion rights very closely.
Pro-life advocates want to confer ‘personhood’ status on the fetus and allow a person to be charged with homicide for the fetus’ death. Pro-choice advocates focus more on the harm done to the pregnant woman and do not support the idea of ‘personhood’ for a fetus.
In all, 38 states have fetal homicide law, but Colorado is not one of them.