Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Keeler v. Superior Court

Consider the case of Keeler v. Superior Court, heard and decided by the California Supreme Court in 1970.

"Petitioner and Teresa Keeler obtained an interlocutory decree of divorce on September 27, 1968. They had been married for 16 years. Unknown to petitioner, Mrs. Keeler was then pregnant by one Ernest Vogt, whom she had met earlier that summer. She subsequently began living with Vogt in Stockton, but concealed that fact from petitioner. Petitioner was given custody of their two daughters, aged 12 and 13 years, and under the decree Mrs. Keeler had the right to take the girls on alternate weekends."

"On February 23, 1969, Mrs. Keeler was driving on a narrow mountain road in Amador County after delivering the girls to their home. She met petitioner driving in the opposite direction; he blocked the road with his car, and she pulled over to the side. He walked to her vehicle and began speaking to her. He seemed calm, and she rolled down her window to hear him. He said, 'I hear you're pregnant. If you are you had better stay away from the girls and from here.' She did not reply, and he opened the car door; as she later testified, 'He assisted me out of the car...It wasn't roughly at this time.' Petitioner then looked at her abdomen and became 'extremely upset.' He said, 'You sure are. I'm going to stomp it out of you.' He pushed her against the car, shoved his knee into her abdomen, and struck her in the face with several blows. She fainted, and when she regained consciousness petitioner had departed."

"Mrs. Keeler...had suffered substantial facial injuries, as well as extensive bruising of the abdominal wall. A Caesarian section was performed and the fetus was examined in utero. Its head was found to be severely fractured, and it was delivered stillborn. The pathologist gave as his opinion that the cause of death was skull fracture with consequent cerebral hemorrhaging..."

The baby was in the 35th week and weighed five pounds. The District Attorney attempted to charge Keeler under the murder statutes. The Supreme Court of California found that the baby was not a human being, and thus it was okay to kill him as a matter of California law. 

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