Columbus woman loses challenges murder indictment

By The Associated Press

JACKSON — The Mississippi Supreme Court has returned the murder case against Rennie Gibbs, who is accused in the death of her unborn child, to Lowndes County for trial.

A three-judge Supreme Court panel on June 17, 2010, gave Gibbs permission to file a challenge to a murder indictment. The full court heard oral arguments in May.

However, in a 6-3 ruling this past week, the Supreme Court said it made a mistake.

Presiding Justice George C. Carlson Jr., writing for the majority, said the issues raised by Gibbs could be addressed in a future appeal — if there is one. No trial date has been set.

Justice Leslie King, joined by two other justices, said the Supreme Court had had the case for 498 days. King said the court should determine whether Gibbs’ claims were true — that prosecutors want to try Gibbs for a crime that does not exist and a crime that would be unconstitutional if it did exist.

During the May hearing, Gibbs’ attorney, Robert McDuff of Jackson, said nowhere does state law make it a crime for a woman to smoke, drink, water ski or even take drugs while pregnant, even if the pregnancy ends in a miscarriage or a stillborn death.

Gibbs’ child was stillborn in 2006 after prosecutors alleged she took cocaine. Gibbs was charged with depraved-heart murder, a legal term for when an action that demonstrates a “callous disregard for human life” results in death. It carries a life sentence.

Gibbs became pregnant at 15 and the stillborn death occurred when was 16, according to court records.

Prosecutors told the Supreme Court that it was too early for justices to be stepping into a case the facts of which have not been developed at trial. They said the indictment deals with a set of circumstances that must still be proven to a jury.

McDuff said state law is directed at murders committed by third parties against an unborn child. He said the courts cannot assume that such laws cover “a pregnant woman who does something that unintentionally causes a miscarriage or stillbirth.”

The National Association of Social Workers, the National Organization of Women and other groups filed briefs with the court supporting dismissal of the indictment.