Killing boosts call for fetal slaying law
Lawmakers want homicide defined
» Hearing for Vesperas rescheduled
Hawaii lawmakers are considering creating a new law that would allow murder charges for the deaths of fetuses following a recent stabbing of a nearly full-term pregnant mother who lost her unborn child.
Without such a law, Hawaii prosecutors can't bring any charges against Tyrone Vesperas for the death of his wife's fetus. Vesperas is charged with murder in the slaying of his 14-year-old son and attempted murder in the attack of his wife.
Vesperas, a 38-year-old staff sergeant in the Hawaii Army National Guard, is being held without bail for stabbing his son in the neck and his wife in the abdomen with a military-issued combat knife on the Big Island on June 11. Cheryl-Lyn Saniatan, 34, survived, but her unborn child did not.
The bill's sponsor, Rep. John Mizuno, said it doesn't make sense that Hawaii has laws against animal cruelty but no protections for unborn children.
"If we can make it a felony to kill pets, why can't we make it a felony to kill an unborn fetus?" asked Mizuno (D, Alewa Heights-Kalihi), who will introduce the bill to the Legislature next year.
At least 36 states have fetal homicide laws, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. There's also a federal Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which doesn't apply to state crimes.
A similar bill was proposed two years ago, but it failed to move out of committee in part because it was seen as an attack on abortion rights.
"If somebody attacks a pregnant mother who wants to have the child, and attacks with the intent to kill the fetus or recklessly kills the fetus, that should be a crime in Hawaii," Honolulu Prosecutor Peter Carlisle said yesterday.
The bill's supporters will try to tailor it to avoid defining a fetus as a human being, which could potentially be used to make a legal argument against abortion.
The measure would apply when someone other than the pregnant mother or her doctor causes the fetus' death.
"We think the public would strongly agree that perpetrators should be held accountable for the life of that child," said Kelly Rosati, Hawaii Family Forum executive director and spokeswoman for the Catholic Church.
Vesperas is charged with the second-degree murder of his son, Tyran Vesperas-Saniatan, attempted second-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder and possession of a deadly weapon.
Rep. Tommy Waters, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has said he is researching fetal homicide legislation.
"Mr. Vesperas' behavior is criminal, and it is important that the Prosecutor's Office has the tools to convict these violent offenders," said Waters (D, Lanikai-Waimanalo).
Any potential law would not apply to fetuses that die as a result of their mother's drug use, an issue the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled on in 2005. The court decided that manslaughter charges couldn't be brought against Tayshea Aiwohi because her methamphetamine use harmed a fetus, not a person.
Hearing for Vesperas rescheduled
HILO » A preliminary hearing for Big Island murder suspect Tyrone Vesperas was postponed yesterday when his attorney, Deputy Public Defender Steven Johnson, told District Judge Barbara Takase he needed more time to prepare for the case.
Takase reset the preliminary hearing for July 5.
Vesperas, 38, was charged last week with second-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, attempted second-degree murder and possession of a deadly weapon.
The charges followed a domestic dispute June 11 in which Vesperas allegedly stabbed his estranged wife, Cheryl-Lyn Saniatan, numerous times in the abdomen at her home in Ainaloa, south of Hilo. Saniatan, pregnant and days away from giving birth, survived, but the unborn child died.
As the husband and wife struggled, their son, Tyran Vesperas-Saniatan, 14, stepped in to help his mother, but was stabbed in the neck and died.