By Charles Wilson
INDIANAPOLIS — A Chinese immigrant who prosecutors say ate rat poison when she was eight months pregnant rejected a plea agreement Friday that would have negated a murder charge in her newborn baby's death.
Bei Bei Shuai turned down prosecutors' offer to drop a murder charge if she pleads guilty to a lesser charge of attempted feticide during a court hearing in Indianapolis, her lawyer and prosecutors said. If Shuai had accepted the deal, she could have faced six to 20 years in prison or even received a suspended sentence.
The 35-year-old Shanghai native, who was freed on bond in May after more than a year in jail, has until Aug. 31 to change her mind.
Defense attorney Linda Pence said Shuai wants to clear her name and avoid the stigma of guilt.
"She intends to fight these charges vigorously," Pence said. "She doesn't want any other woman to go through what she has gone through."
Several medical and women's rights groups have filed friend-of-the-court briefs supporting Shuai. Some briefs claim that a conviction in the case could set a precedent by which pregnant women could be prosecuted for smoking or other behavior that authorities deemed a danger to their unborn child. A lawyer with the New York-based National Advocates for Pregnant Women is assisting in Shuai's defense.
Shuai was eight months pregnant on Dec. 23, 2010, when she ate rat poison after her boyfriend broke up with her. Shuai was hospitalized and doctors detected little wrong with the unborn child's health for the first few days. The premature girl, Angel Shuai, was delivered by cesarean section Dec. 31, but died from bleeding in the brain three days later after being removed from life support.
Prosecutors charged Shuai with murder in March 2011, arguing that a suicide note she wrote showed that she intended for her baby to die with her. Pence disputes that claim.
"She never intended to kill her baby. She intended to kill herself, and she would care for her baby in the afterlife. She wishes she would have died instead," Pence said.
For months, Shuai's attorneys tried to persuade Judge Sheila Carlisle to dismiss the charges, but Carlisle refused. Higher courts also declined to dismiss the charges, but did order Carlisle to set bond _ a rarity in Indiana murder cases.
Defense lawyers also asked Carlisle to bar from evidence medical records related to Shuai's hospital treatment, which they said was given to police by a pathologist who did not have Shuai's consent. Carlisle did not rule on the defense motion Friday, but gave both sides 30 days in which to file legal briefs.
Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry said Friday that his office had asked the judge to admonish Pence for making allegedly unethical statements in an effort to raise funds for Shuai's defense.
In court documents filed Thursday, Pence denied that she had violated the legal code of conduct and claimed that her statements were within the boundaries of free speech.
Curry also said his office had issued a subpoena to The Guardian newspaper in England seeking a video recording of its interview with Shuai. Curry said the newspaper was "resisting" the subpoena.
A spokeswoman for The Guardian did not return a request for comment Friday night.
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