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March 5, 2013

Mom’s lawyers want to bar baby’s autopsy photos

Indianapolis — Lawyers for a Chinese immigrant whose premature baby died after she tried to kill herself by eating rat poison are asking an Indianapolis judge to bar autopsy photographs from her murder trial, saying the pictures are overly gory and likely to prejudice jurors.

Bei Bei Shuai’s attorneys said in documents filed Friday in Marion County Court that a medical examiner from Delaware who reviewed the photographs called them “appallingly unprofessional.”

“Photos of dead infants are by nature inflammatory and prejudicial,” defense attorneys wrote in one of several motions filed.

A spokeswoman for Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry had no comment Saturday.

Shuai was hospitalized after she attempted suicide by eating rat poison on Dec. 23, 2010, when she was eight months pregnant. Doctors delivered her daughter, Angel Shuai, on Dec. 31 and the infant died three days later.

Prosecutors arrested Bei Bei Shuai on charges of murder and feticide in March 2011, saying a note she left to her former boyfriend proved that Shuai intended to kill her baby when she ate the rat poison.

But Judge Sheila Carlisle ruled in January that the doctor who determined the poison caused the baby’s death hadn’t considered other possible causes, including a drug administered to Shuai while she was in the hospital. That effectively deprived prosecutors of the cause of death on which their case rested.

Prosecutors said earlier this week they wouldn’t appeal Carlisle’s ruling, and their next step was unclear.

Shuai’s lawyers said in their motion to bar the autopsy photographs that the pictures didn’t prove anything because they didn’t show any evidence of effects from the poison. Instead, they unnecessarily depicted the infant’s body in various “gruesome” stages of dissection, the documents said.

Delaware Chief State Medical Examiner Richard Callery advised Shuai’s attorneys that some of the photographs were unprofessional and inflammatory, the documents said.

Shuai’s lawyers also renewed their call for the judge to dismiss the murder charges, saying that she had only intended to commit suicide, which is not illegal in Indiana. They also said that the fetal murder law under which Shuai was charged was intended to protect pregnant women from attack, not to protect fetuses from their mothers.

The case in Indiana has drawn international attention from medical groups and reproductive rights advocates who claim it could set a precedent by which pregnant women could be prosecuted for smoking or other behavior that authorities deem dangerous to an unborn child. Dozens of organizations have filed friend-of-the-court briefs on behalf of Shuai.  

Shuai was released on bond last May. Her trial is currently set for April 22.

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