April 22, 2003
Posted at: 10:15 p.m. CDT
JONESBORO, Ark. -- Modesto, California resident Scott Peterson plead not guilty to charges of murder in the death of his wife, Laci, and their unborn son that was to be named Connor.
Under California law, a fetus that is beyond the seventh week of development is covered under the state's fetal homicide law. If the Peterson case were to take place under the jurisdiction of either Arkansas or Missouri, Scott Peterson would still also be charged in the death of his unborn son.
Legal definitions do vary from state to state, but according to religious leaders in Region 8, the deaths of Laci and Connor is a violation of the Ten Commandments.
"It doesn't say thou shall not kill. It says thou shall do no murder," Dr. Michael Adams of Central Baptist Church in Jonesboro said. "Murder implies premeditation obviously."
Modesto prosecutors allege that Peterson acted ``intentionally, deliberately and with premeditation'' in killing Laci Peterson and the couple's unborn child around December 24, 2002. The fetus was eight months old at the time. In regards to a murder case, there are only two states right now, Missouri and Minnesota, which agree with most religions: That life begins at conception.
"We traditionally also go to the passage in Jeremiah," Adams said. "Where Jeremiah the prophet said: 'You knew me before I was born. You formed me in my mother's womb.' That gives a really strong case for the fetus to have a personality; the fetus to have a purpose."
"There are provisions in Arkansas law that murder charges can be brought under certain circumstances," Craighead County Deputy Prosecutor Mike Walden said. "The definition of 'person' for purposes of various murder charges has been expanded to include an unborn child or living fetus if it's beyond the age of 12 weeks."
Arkansas Code 5-1-102 was signed into law in 1999. According to the code, when a fetus is involved in a capital murder case in Arkansas, one murder could turn into two -making it possible for the defendant to potentially be charged with the death penalty.
"If a guilty verdict is delivered," Walden said. "You have to then establish either aggravating circumstances that would justify the death penalty. In this case the murder, or the death of more than one person, is considered an aggravating circumstance."
In the case of Scott Peterson, the Stanislaus County District Attorney says he'll likely seek the death penalty.
"We have some really clear direction about the fact that we're not supposed to commit murder," Adams said. "If we had the capability to control our anger a little more, then murder wouldn't take place in our society, and we've have a better place to live."