Murder charge tossed in Grand Junction crash involving unborn child
Grand Junction Correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado
GRAND JUNCTION, Colorado ” A baby 8 1/2 months along inside a mother’s womb is not a “person” under state murder laws, a judge has ruled.
District Judge Richard Gurley on Wednesday threw out seven felony charges ” including first-degree murder with extreme indifference ” in the Nov. 6 head-on crash on Highway 65 that injured 26-year-old Shea Lehnen and led to the death of her baby, Lileigh Lehnen.
Logan Lage, 24, the suspect charged in the deadly wreck, is scheduled for a preliminary hearing today.
The judge’s ruling essentially guts a first-of-its kind legal argument in Colorado presented by Mesa County prosecutors: that a murder victim doesn’t need to be born to be alive.
In Gurley’s six-page ruling, the judge repeatedly pointed to the definition of “person” under Colorado murder laws.
That is a “human being who had been born and was alive at the time of the homicidal act,” the judge wrote. “The plain language of the definition could not be any clearer.”
The judge wrote that to qualify as a “person,” three conditions must exist at the time of the homicidal act:
– The victim is a human being.
– The victim has already been born.
– The victim is still alive.
“The only act in this case that could possibly qualify as the homicidal act occurred when the defendant drove on the wrong side of the road at high speed and collided with a vehicle being operated by Shea Lehnen. The People do not suggest otherwise,” the judge wrote, adding, “Lileigh Lehnen had not yet been born at this time.”
Toward the end of the judge’s ruling on the murder count, he reached out to the victims.
“In making this finding, the court certainly does not wish to minimize the fact that Lileigh’s parents have suffered a great loss,” he wrote. “Nor does the court wish to minimize the seriousness of the alleged conduct that resulted in this charge. Nevertheless, it is the court’s duty to apply and interpret the law as the legislature has written it.”
Coroner called it homicide
District Attorney Pete Hautzinger ” who charged Lage in a 15-count complaint in November ” has said he was prepared to call experts to testify Lehnen’s baby could have lived outside the womb at the time of the crash.
Deputy Mesa County Coroner Dr. Robert Kurtzman ruled the baby’s death as homicide and said the collision damaged the mother’s placenta, restricting blood flow to the baby.
Lileigh Lehnen was born alive after the crash at St. Mary’s Hospital, but died within hours of asphyxia. The child was delivered through emergency Caesarean section.
“Medically this was a viable fetus which would be deemed to be ‘alive’ at the time of the accident, and was subsequently born and later died as a result of the defendant’s conduct,” Chief Deputy District Attorney Tammy Eret wrote in response to a motion to dismiss charges.
Lage’s attorney, Deputy Public Defender William McNulty, filed the motion to dismiss on Feb. 15.
Lage on Nov. 6 allegedly was fleeing a state trooper who tried to stop him for speeding on Highway 330. The chase hit speeds of 80 mph and went on for more than 10 miles.
Lage was trying to pass a pickup truck on Highway 65 ” a two-lane roadway ” when his Jeep crashed into an oncoming Nissan driven by Lehnen.
According to an arrest affidavit, troopers at the scene searched Lage’s Jeep Cherokee and found 1.1 grams of suspected marijuana and .2 grams of suspected heroin, along with drug paraphernalia.
Lage was on probation at the time and his license was revoked.
William Lage, Logan’s father, told the Free Press his son had left work around 8 a.m. after a two-week stint on a gas rig and was driving home to see his son.
DA ponders appeal
Aside from the murder charge, the judge dismissed six other felony counts. They’re rooted in the argument the child was alive at the time of the crash.
Those charges included two counts of vehicular homicide, child abuse causing death, vehicular eluding causing death, careless driving causing death and drunk-driving causing death.
Specific people are protected under state murder laws, the judge wrote.
“It is not as though homicide statutes generally protect some limited class of potential victims,” Gurley wrote. “There simply is no indication that the legislature intended to broaden the category of possible victims in these statutes beyond those that could be the victims of homicide.”
The judge’s ruling doesn’t impact 11 other charges, among them five felonies including first-degree assault with extreme indifference.
Hautzinger, meanwhile, held out the chance Thursday that Gurley’s ruling may end up before the Colorado Court of Appeals or the state’s Supreme Court.
“We’re talking about a fully developed, viable, healthy child, and but for Logan Lage, she’d be happy and healthy now,” Hautzinger said.
He said a final decision on a possible appeal rests with Lehnen’s family.
“They have an interest in closure,” Hautzinger said. “An appeal delays a case six months to a year.”
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