Teenage Mother Charged with the Murder of her Stillborn Child

In 2006 16-year-old Mississippi native Rennie Gibbs’s gave birth a month early to a stillborn baby girl she named Samiya. At birth Samiya’s death was attributed to the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck and for the moment the baby’s death seemed like it would be nothing more than an unhappy chapter in the life of her young mother. However, just days after delivering her daughter a medical examiner revealed that an autopsy showed that the baby had traces of marijuana and cocaine in her blood. The baby’s death was swiftly changed from strangulation from the umbilical cord to homicide. A few months later in early 2007 a Lowndes County grand jury indicted 16-year-old Rennie Gibbs for depraved hear murder for the death of her unborn child. The indictment said that Ms. Gibbs “had unlawfully, willfully, and feloniously” caused the death of Samiya by smoking crack cocaine during her pregnancy.
It has been seven years since Samiya died and her mother, now 23, is still involved in a legal battle that holds the potential for a maximum life sentence in prison. Ms. Gibbs’ fetal harm suit is part of an unusual swell of similar cases sweeping the country in which prosecutors argue that the state has a duty to protect children from the harmful actions of their parents. However, this argument brings into the light several issues including whether the scientific evidence detecting harmful substances in the stillborns can be considered legitimate science. Many civil rights attorneys are upset by this trend asking, “If it’s not a crime for a mother to intentionally end her pregnancy, how can it be a crime for her to do it unintentionally?” It will be interesting to see how this trend plays itself out in the coming months with Ms. Gibbs’ case coming to trial later this spring.