RALEIGH, N.C. — The N.C. Court of Appeals said Tuesday a state judge erred in dismissing two first-degree murder counts against a man prosecutors say shot a woman who was five months pregnant, resulting in the loss of her unborn twins.
The expectant mother survived.
It was not immediately clear whether murder charges will be refiled against defendant Gregory R. Chapman, who also faces felony assault and weapons counts. The 2008 shooting occurred before passage of a new law making the killing of a fetus a homicide.
Prosecutors say Chapman shot Lisa Wallace once in the upper abdomen. During emergency surgery to save her life, doctors were forced to abort her twins. Though they had heartbeats, each died after only a few minutes outside their mother.
Doctors issued birth certificates for each twin and then death certificates. The medical examiner’s report listed the immediate cause of their deaths as “previable prematurity.”
In 2010, a judge dismissed the double murder charges against Chapman, ruling the twins were too undeveloped to survive outside the womb and therefore did not fit the criteria then in place for homicide. In the unanimous ruling Tuesday, the three-judge appeals panel ruled it should have been left up to a jury to decide whether Chapman’s alleged crime was murder.
Duplin County District Attorney Ernie Lee did not respond to messages seeking comment.
Staples Hughes, the state appellate defender representing Chapman, also did not immediately respond.
Chapman has remained in jail while his case wound through the courts.
State lawmakers passed the 2011 Unborn Victims of Violence Act following the murder of Jenna Nielsen. The Raleigh newspaper carrier was eight months pregnant when she was stabbed to death in June 2007 outside a convenience store. That case remains unsolved.
The two-year-old law says anyone who commits murder, manslaughter or assault against a pregnant woman is guilty of the same crimes against the fetus, regardless of whether an attacker knows about the pregnancy.