Michelle Wilkins Update: No Cause of Death Listed for Baby Cut From Womb | Westword


Michelle Wilkins Update: No Cause of Death Listed for Baby Cut From Womb

Dynel Lane's alleged attack in Longmont on Michelle Wilkins, who was seven-months pregnant when her unborn baby was cut from her womb, is among the most shocking crimes in recent memory — one from which Wilkins' uncle says his niece will require a long recovery. But it also brings up tricky questions...
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Update: On March 27, the Boulder District Attorney's Office chose not to file a murder charge against Dynel Lane, the woman accused of cutting the unborn baby from the womb of Michelle Wilkins earlier that month, because there was "no evidence of live birth." See our previous coverage of that and more below.

Now, the Boulder County coroner's office has finally released its findings about the death of the child Wilkins named Aurora.

No cause of death for the 34-week-old fetus was stated, according to the Longmont Times-Call. Instead, the case is being characterized as an instance of "fetal demise."

The website Medscape describes fetal demise as "the loss of a fetus at any stage.... According to the 2003 revision of the Procedures for Coding Cause of Fetal Death Under ICD-10, the National Center for Health Statistics defines fetal death as 'death prior to the complete expulsion or extraction from its mother of a product of human conception, irrespective of the duration of pregnancy and which is not an induced termination of pregnancy. The death is indicated by the fact that after such expulsion or extraction, the fetus does not breathe or show any other evidence of life, such as beating of the heart, pulsation of the umbilical cord, or definite movement of voluntary muscles. Heartbeats are to be distinguished from transient cardiac contractions; respirations are to be distinguished from fleeting respiratory efforts or gasps.'"

"Fetal demise" is sometimes used interchangeably with "stillbirth" — and the website notes that "in the United States, the term stillbirth or fetal demise does not have a standard definition."

Wilkins has not commented on this finding, but she continues to Facebook regularly, with a particularly poignant post coming late last month, around the time Aurora was expected to join her family. She wrote:
Today I spent time in the studio making pottery. I bought a new car. I spent time with my sister. I told Dan I loved him. All the big things and all the little things add up to how we spend our life, how present we are with the pain and the joy. Nothing could have been more full of both than one week containing Mothers Day, Aurora's due date, and the two month marker of her passing. I am sometimes overwhelmed with gratitude for having spent 7 beautiful and uncertain months with her (what would the future hold I wondered) but some days are still hard. Really tough. But it's a blessing I count every day. I love you, Aurora. I always knew you would be my teacher and I am so humbled by all the lessons you've brought me. And thank you to family and friends who have supported me through this tough time and let me take all the space I need.
Her most recent note, on June 13, reads simply, "Love everyone, no exceptions."

She is clearly a remarkable person. Continue for our previous coverage.

Update, 2:56 p.m. March 27: Today, the Boulder District Attorney's Office filed formal charges against Dynel Lane, the woman arrested on suspicion of cutting the unborn baby from the womb of Michelle Wilkins. The baby, whose name has been revealed as Aurora, did not survive.

As we reported earlier (see our earlier coverage below), the DA's office had previously said Lane would not be charged with murder. Instead, she's been accused of eight felonies — among them unlawful termination of a pregnancy, three counts of attempted first-degree murder, and two counts apiece of first-degree assault and second-degree assault.

Earlier, Boulder County coroner Emma Hall released a statement that read in part, "Neither the autopsy or the investigation have provided any evidence that the baby exhibited any signs of life outside of the womb, therefore the circumstance is not being considered a live birth."

This contradicted a statement contained in the arrest affidavit against Lane, which said her husband saw the child take a gasping breath.

Boulder DA Stan Garnett addressed this seeming discrepancy at a news conference that got underway following a 1:30 p.m. court appearance.

Garnett said that following "a more thorough examination of the witness by the Longmont Police Department, Aurora was still. Her mouth was open, but she was not breathing."

This account was consistent with the coroner's report, Garnett stressed.

The DA noted that he met several times with the Wilkins family in the run-up to charges being filed, including this morning, when he explained his planned actions in advance.

He also emphasized that Lane is innocent until proven guilty and revealed that "we do not know the exact cause" of Aurora's death, "as there were no injuries...to explain it." More details will be divulged once the coroner's report is completed, approximately six-to-eight weeks from now.

One more thing: Garnett made it clear that he has an ethical duty not to file charges he doesn't believe he can prove at trial, no matter his personal opinion of the law in question.

Lane will next appear in court on May 5 for a preliminary hearing. Continue for our previous coverage.

Update, 5:36 a.m. March 27:
 Dynel Lane, the woman arrested on suspicion of cutting a baby from the womb of Michelle Wilkins, reportedly will not face murder charges, even though the child died.

The decision about allegations was pushed back from Wednesday until today by the Boulder District Attorney's Office; see our previous coverage below.

As we note in that post, Lane allegedly told her husband, David Ridley, that the child she's said to have taken from Wilkins's body was her own miscarried baby. She'd placed the body in a bathtub, and there, the police report in the case maintains that Ridley "rubbed the baby slightly, then rolled it over to hear and see it take a gasping breath."

If this was accurate, a murder charge was at least possible, since it would have demonstrated that the baby survived for a time outside the womb — a prerequisite under current Colorado law.

But while speaking with the media last week, Boulder DA Stan Garnett seemed eager to deflate expectations of a murder filing, pointing out that the statutes were ambiguous about how long a baby needed to live in order to justify such a charge.

In addition, there was doubt about whether the baby's autopsy could definitively establish such a time frame.

Then, late yesterday afternoon, the DA's office announced that it would hold a press conference about the charging decision at 2:30 p.m. Friday.

The timing signaled to media observers that Lane would not be charged with murder.

After all, it's a longtime tradition that public agencies release controversial information on Friday afternoons, when the number of news consumers is low and most people are already focused on the weekend.

This plan developed a kink, according to the Boulder Daily Camera, when Fox31 reported that Lane would be charged with murder. That necessitated a correction from Garnett, who confirmed to the paper that no murder counts would be filed in the case.

At this point, Garnett isn't saying what charges will be filed against Lane. That will have to wait until a 1:30 p.m. court hearing, with explanations coming during the 2:30 p.m. press conference that will follow.

Continue for our previous coverage.

Original post, 6:46 a.m. March 24: Dynel Lane's alleged attack in Longmont on Michelle Wilkins, who was seven-months pregnant when her unborn baby was cut from her womb, is among the most shocking crimes in recent memory — one from which Wilkins' uncle says his niece will require a long recovery.

But it also brings up tricky questions about the charges that may be pressed against Lane.

As our Melanie Asmar has reported, Colorado law doesn't allow for a murder charge against Lane even though the baby died unless the child survived for a time outside the womb.

Determining whether or not that was the case may prove difficult, however — and as a result, the Boulder District Attorney's Office is delaying by two days the filing of formal charges against Lane.

Over recent days, more photos of Lane have been discovered, including several images from Facebook, including this one:

In addition, Robert Walsh, a former roommate of Lane's, has come forward to share his experiences, which were mainly positive.

In an interview with 9News, Walsh revealed that he connected with her in 2012 via Craigslist — an unsettling revelation, given that Lane is accused of luring Wilkins to her home by way of a Craigslist post advertising baby clothes for sale.

Walsh told the station that he wanted someone "motherly" with whom to share a residence, since he had a young child, and during the nine months he cohabited a Golden apartment with Lane and one of her daughters, she more than delivered.

"It was really nice actually, living with her," he said. "She was clean. She did her part around the house. More so. More than expected."

As such, he was dumbfounded when he learned about the crime to which she's been tied.

In the meantime, the matter of charges against Lane looms — and in that respect, a reference from the arrest affidavit against her may be key.

Lane allegedly told her husband that she'd miscarried the child she's said to have removed from Wilkins's body — and after she showed it to him, the document states that "he rubbed the baby slightly, then rolled it over to hear and see it take a gasping breath."

If the baby did indeed survive outside the womb, a murder charge is at least conceivable. But during a press conference last week, Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garnett noted that such an accusation would hardly be guaranteed.

"Under Colorado law, essentially, there's no way murder charges can be brought if it's not established that the fetus lived as a child outside the body of the mother for some period of time," he said, adding that how long "is not terribly clear. The Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals will get to tell us that eventually."

Other evidence available to Garnett includes an autopsy on the baby, which took place on Friday, the Boulder Daily Camera reports. The results of that examination have not yet been made public, but they're presumably one reason why Garnett has decided not to file charges against Lane until Friday. He'd previously said he hoped to do so on Wednesday.

If the autopsy doesn't prove that the baby was alive for a time after being taken from Wilkins's body, prosecutors still have options. In our previous post, reporter Asmar notes that House Bill 1154, passed into law circa 2013, made "unlawful termination of pregnancy" a crime, which, in this instance, would qualify as a class 3 felony. The sentencing range for such an offense is four-to-twelve years.

In contrast, first-degree murder is a class 1 felony that can lead to a sentence of life in prison or even the death penalty.

Look below to see a Boulder Daily Camera video of Garnett's news conference about the Dynel Lane case.

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.
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