RALEIGH, N.C. — Lily Broom squirmed in her mother's belly, reminding her to fight to survive.
It was October 2008, and Lily's father had just shot her mother. The bullet missed Lily but shredded Danna Broom's intestines, tucked behind the sac in which Lily had grown for the previous 26 weeks.
The pain blinded Danna. She wanted to close her eyes and find relief from the aching, the fighting, the deteriorating marriage. This time, Lily kicked, and her mother found the strength to stand and fight.
Lily was born too soon, extracted early so doctors could patch her mother back together. Thirty-one days after Lily was forced to live, she died.
Now, her life and death are bringing complicated and emotional questions to North Carolina courts. Judges at the state Court of Appeals must soon decide if Lily was developed enough as a human to be considered a murder victim. And, if she was, was an Alamance County jury right last fall to send Robert Broom to prison for Lily's murder if he never hurt her?
"These are the $64,000 questions," said Jim Parrish, a Fayetteville lawyer who represents Robert Broom.
The answers will affect how judges and juries handle the most fragile victims of the most deadly violence. Women who are pregnant are more at risk of domestic violence than at any other time in their life, researchers have found. Every month, pregnant women in North Carolina are killed by those who once professed to love them. Their deaths are often met with stern justice.
But for the babies who never made it, justice is often elusive.
A case for change
Danna Broom knows she lived because of Lily. At 26 weeks, Lily had grown big enough to push her mother's organs into different places. As a result, the bullet missed her most vital parts.
But, more than that, it was Lily's kicks and tumbles that she said urged her to survive during the 12 hours her husband held her captive.
"Lily is a hero," Danna Broom said through tears. "I'm here because of her. I want her sacrifice to matter."
For his entire career as an assistant district attorney, Gene Morris waited for a case like Lily's.
In 2009, as Alamance County prosecutors tried to sort through the case against Robert Broom, Morris came out of retirement to try and make the courts recognize that children such as Lily are murder victims.
North Carolina, unlike more than 35 other states, doesn't treat fetuses as murder victims. In many of those states, it doesn't matter how advanced the pregnancy or the baby's chance of surviving outside of the mother when she is born. If North Carolina had such a law, Broom's case would be simple: Lily would be a victim in her own right.
Year after year since the 1980s, some legislators pressed for such a law.
"These children are invisible as far as our law is concerned. That shouldn't be the case," said Rep. Dale Folwell, a Forsyth County Republican. Folwell has proposed legislation - and will again this session - that enables police to charge those who kill a pregnant woman to be charged with two homicides; for those who assault a pregnant woman, the abuser would be charged with two assaults.
Whatever the legislature, now under Republican control, it will have no bearing on the Broom case. Criminal laws cannot be applied retroactively.
To uphold Broom's murder conviction for Lily's death, though, the courts will need to weigh laws this state has abided for more than a century. The state Supreme Court has said that to convict someone for murder under common law, the victim must be born alive, capable of living independently of his mother and must have died from injuries suffered prior to birth.
In October 2008, Superior Court Judge J.B. Allen Jr. allowed Morris to try Robert Broom, 39, for first-degree murder.
His lawyers argued unsuccessfully that Lily wasn't a viable fetus since she initially relied on a ventilator. Broom's lawyer also argued that since the bullet hadn't hit Lily or the uterus in which she grew, he shouldn't be charged with her murder.
Doctors at Duke University Hospital spoke in a singular voice: Lily died because of complications of premature birth. Broom had forced Lily's birth, doctors concluded, by compromising the health of her mother.
It took the jury eight hours to agree. For Lily's death, Robert Broom was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole. For trying to kill his wife, Broom got an additional 13 years.
Family drifts apart
After years of drifting apart, the Brooms were fighting often in 2008.
In the spring, Danna Broom became pregnant. She said that she and Robert promised to try harder to make their marriage work.
Broom's pregnancy put her in the greatest danger of all. During pregnancy, feelings of jealousy, fear and stress often lead abusers to erupt in the most violent ways. Researchers have found that homicide is the leading cause of traumatic death for pregnant and postpartum women in the United States, accounting for 31 percent of deaths resulting from injuries to pregnant women.
In October 2008, Danna and Robert Broom sat in their upstairs bedroom talking about their future. They discussed divorce. They fussed. Robert testified that he threatened to leave.
Danna, then 37, rocked on the edge of their bed as Robert excused himself to the restroom.
The next thing she recalls is the muzzle of a .45-caliber handgun pushed against her bulging belly. Its blast blew her back.
Through the afternoon and night, Broom said her husband held her captive, refusing to call for medical help. She fought sleep, each surge of will brought by some sort of movement by Lily.
Finally, after 12 hours, she said she made a deal with her husband: "If you call for paramedics, I'll tell them it was an accident."
Doctors immediately saw the truth. Because the tissue around her intestines had started to heal, doctors could tell her wound was old.
Robert Broom had told police that his wife had shot herself and that he immediately called for help. He stuck to that story through his trial, testifying in his defense.
When Danna Broom woke from her coma, bit by bit, she told police and doctors what really happened that night.
A struggle for survival
Lily weighed 2 pounds, 2 ounces, a red and wrinkled little girl with a mess of dark hair.
She was supposed to have arrived in December, just in time for Christmas.
But it was October, and Lily struggled each day to make it to the next. Her heart beat steadily, but her lungs struggled to deliver the oxygen she needed.
Danna would hover near the incubator, staring at her daughter. Lily wrapped her fingers around Danna's and seemed to look right at her mother.
On Nov. 3, Lily's tummy filled with toxins spilling from her intestines.
The intestines hadn't fully matured, a common complication of premature birth.
Doctors broke the news to Danna: Lily will die.
Danna held Lily, soaking her with tears.
And she thanked her daughter for saving her life, for the kicks that made her stand and fight.