EDITORIAL: Justice for the unborn terror victim

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Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan was charged with 13 counts of murder for the Fort Hood massacre, but 14 persons were killed. Army Pvt. Francheska Velez, a 21-year-old Chicago native, was six weeks pregnant when she was gunned down. Her unborn child is the 14th victim, but the death so far has been ignored by our government.

Weeks before the Nov. 5 shooting at Fort Hood, Velez had been driving fuel tankers in Iraq when she learned she was pregnant. Because of the good news, she rotated home early to take an assignment outside of the war zone. She had come to the room where the terrorist struck to fill out paperwork related to her pregnancy. Had she not been pregnant, she still would have been half a world away serving in Iraq at the time of the shootings.

Maj. Hasan can and should be held responsible for killing Velez’s unborn child. The Unborn Victims of Violence Act was passed in 2004 to cover these specific circumstances. The law provides that a person, like Maj. Hasan, charged with murder under section 918 of Title 10 of the U.S. Code who caused the death of “a child, who is in utero at the time the conduct takes place, is guilty of a separate offense under this section and shall, upon conviction, be punished by such punishment, other than death, as a court-martial may direct.”

The law is also known as “Laci and Conner’s Law,” after Laci Peterson, who was pregnant with a son to be named Conner when she was murdered by Scott Peterson in 2002.

The law covers unborn children “at any stage of development,” so the fact that Velez’s unborn child was six weeks old brings the statute in force. The law does not require that the shooter, in this case Maj. Hasan, “had knowledge or should have had knowledge that the victim of the underlying offense was pregnant” or that he “intended to cause the death of, or bodily injury to, the unborn child.” Had he intentionally killed the unborn child, he would be tried under a separate murder charge. Recognition of the additional victim is not a capital offense, though Maj. Hasan currently faces 13 capital murder charges.

Investigators at Fort Hood are considering whether the Unborn Victims of Violence Act applies to this case. No life lost during the terrorist attack on Fort Hood should be forgotten. We urge the Army to pursue justice for Velez’s unborn child, who brought her to that place on that fateful day.

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