Depraved heart

ProPublica reports on a terrifying prosecution in Mississippi.

Rennie Gibbs’s daughter, Samiya, was a month premature when she simultaneously entered the world and left it, never taking a breath. To experts who later examined the medical record, the stillborn infant’s most likely cause of death was also the most obvious: the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck.

But within days of Samiya’s delivery in November 2006, Steven Hayne, Mississippi’s de facto medical examiner at the time, came to a different conclusion. Autopsy tests had turned up traces of a cocaine byproduct in Samiya’s blood, and Hayne declared her death a homicide, caused by “cocaine toxicity.”

In early 2007, a Lowndes County grand jury indicted Gibbs, a 16-year-old black teen, for “depraved heart murder” — defined under Mississippi law as an act “eminently dangerous to others…regardless of human life.” By smoking crack during her pregnancy, the indictment said, Gibbs had “unlawfully, willfully, and feloniously” caused the death of her baby. The maximum sentence: life in prison.

Seven years and much legal wrangling later, Gibbs could finally go on trial this spring — part of a wave of “fetal harm” cases across the country in recent years that pit the rights of the mother against what lawmakers, health care workers, prosecutors, judges, jurors, and others view as the rights of the unborn child.

Sometimes the level of hatred for women just scares me into silence.




  1. cuervocuero says

    Ever since I read about the rise of the ‘feminine’ trait of ‘poisoner’ in Victorian years, rife with tales of mothers charged with knocking off their kids with the new pharmacy products for insurance scams etc. I’ve wondered how much of that was real and how much of that was tied in to a moral panic about what was a ‘good’ mother.

    This seems more of the same, only down the rabbit hole of ‘preborn’. Lucky it’s only ever about poor and powerless uterus owners who are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

  2. says

    The far right says reports like this are exaggerations and slander.

    And of course it’s not just Mississippi or Georgia. Virginia politician Joseph Yost was doing it, and didn’t like ads made by his opponent.

  3. quixote says

    I wonder when (if?) it will dawn on people that this is about defining women as non-persons.

    I’m not saying “redefining” because I’m becoming rather sure than uterus-people never actually achieved personhood in the first place for too many people.

  4. says

    The entire situation here is deeply messed up.
    The only investigation that should have happened here is a review of the care that Ms. Gibbs received. There are established protocols for diagnosing and dealing with umbilical cord accidents, and if the doctors were lax in following them then they are at fault. And even that would probably have been a civil rather than a criminal case.

  5. karmacat says

    The other problem is that they are treating addiction like a moral failing rather than a disease. In my fantasy world, someone would put the state on trial for not making sure a 16 year old gets treatment.

  6. Blanche Quizno says

    karmacat, did you not realize that here in America, we punish? We punish anyone we can create a reason to, and the laws and statutes usually codify punishment that’s already been routinely inflicted on the least able to defend themselves. The most vulnerable make the best targets, you see.

    “Treatment”? I do not understand this word O_O

    Is it in a foreign language? Some secular foreign language? Now, if you’ll excuse me, God expects me to go judge, hate, and punish some more very deserving miscreants over on the po’ side of town.

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