An Alabama prosecutor announced on Wednesday that she will not pursue a misdemeanor manslaughter indictment against a woman who lost her pregnancy after she got into a fight and was shot in the stomach.
Outrage over the case against Marshae Jones, 27, had sparked protests and a national debate over whether Alabama’s law that life begins at conception, a constitutional amendment passed last year, is prompting unjust punishment against women.
Jefferson County Bessemer Cutoff District Attorney Lynniece Washington said during a news conference Wednesday that she would dismiss the case against Jones and take no further legal action against her.
“As I have previously stated, this is truly a disturbing and heartbreaking case. An unborn child was tragically lost and families on both sides of this matter suffered. Nothing, nothing, nothing we do today or in the future will change that reality,” Washington said.
“The issue before us is whether it’s appropriate to try to hold someone legally culpable for the actions that led to the death of the unborn child. There are no winners only loser in the sad ordeal,” she added. “After reviewing the facts of this case and the applicable state law, I have determined that it is not in the best interest of justice to pursue prosecution of Ms. Jones on the misdemeanor charge for which she was indicted by the grand jury. Therefore, I am hereby dismissing this case and no further legal action will be taken against Ms. Jones in this matter.”
Washington’s decision came just two days after Jones’ attorney’s filed a motion in Jefferson County Circuit Court asking that the manslaughter count be tossed, arguing that it is based on “flawed and twisted rationale.”
“We are pleased with the District Attorney’s decision to dismiss the charges against Marshae Jones. It is the appropriate decision, both for our client and for the State of Alabama,” Jones’ attorneys from the law firm White Arnold & Dowd in Birmingham said in a statement. “This is the outcome we sought this week in our motion to dismiss. We are gratified the District Attorney evaluated the matter and chose not to proceed with a case that was neither reasonable nor just.
“The District Attorney’s decision will help Marshae continue to heal from this tragic event and work to rebuild her life in a positive and productive way. She moves forward with enormous gratitude for the support she and her family have received during this challenging time.”
Jones was five months pregnant when she was shot during a fight in December in the parking lot of a Dollar General store in the Birmingham suburb of Pleasant Grove. The shooting caused Jones to suffer a miscarriage.
The woman who allegedly shot Jones, Ebony Jemison, 23, was initially charged with manslaughter, but a grand jury declined to indict her after determining she shot Jones in self-defense, prosecutors said. The same grand jury indicted Jones on May 1 on one count of manslaughter.
Washington said the grand jury’s decision was based on information provided by the Pleasant Grove police.
Shortly after Jones was shot, Pleasant Grove police Lt. Danny Reid told reporters that Jones “initiated and continued the fight which resulted in the death of her own unborn baby.”
“The investigation showed that the only true victim in this was the unborn baby,” Reid said at the time.
In their motion filed on Monday, Jones’ attorneys said the grand jury indicted Jones after finding she “intentionally” caused the death of her unborn child by “initiating” the fight with Jemison on Dec. 4 knowing she was five months pregnant.
“Using flawed and twisted rationale, the State of Alabama has charged a new theory of criminal liability that does not lawfully exist,” reads a motion to dismiss filed on Jones’ behalf. “The State charges Ms. Jones with intending to cause the death of her unborn child by allegedly ‘initiating a fight.’ The State’s theory ignores the law and ignores reason.”
The grand jury’s decision came just days before Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed into law a ban on most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, without exceptions for rape or incest. The only exception made under the law applies to situations where the life of the mother is endangered by her pregnancy.
The law immediately prompted a legal challenge and has not taken effect.
Prosecutors insisted that “the new law played no role in the consideration of the Grand Jury” in Jones’ case.
But abortion rights groups took a different view of the case.
In a joint statement, Planned Parenthood and Planned Parenthood Southeast said that the case represented the “criminalization of black women” and the refusal to give them justice.
“As a Black woman, despite being physically harmed and losing her pregnancy, the state does not recognize Marshae as a victim — only her fetus,” the statement reads. “With Alabama’s recent abortion ban, we will continue to see people of color being charged for their reproductive decisions and outcomes.”
On Wednesday, Jeff Robinson, deputy legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union, also praised Washington’s decision, saying Jones “should not have been charged, to begin with.”
“The DA’s decision represents precisely what we want to see in these critical moments: a prosecutor who is not afraid to use prosecutorial discretion and power to refuse to prosecute when the law and justice demand that charges should be dropped,” Robinson said in a statement to ABC News.
Washington spoke out on the case for the first time on Saturday, saying there had been “miscommunications” about her office’s role in the indictment, according to The Birmingham News.
“Let me tell each and every one of you, this has been a tragedy,” Washington said. “A child…a helpless child is now dead. Was it avoidable? Absolutely. One hundred percent. However, that young lady has to live for the rest of her life thinking about her choices and decisions.”
Washington, who was on a vacation cruise in the Dominican Republic when Jones was indicted, also addressed the criticism her office has received over the grand jury’s decision.
“For those of you who called my office, and disrupted, cursed, disrespected, because I was not present — I was not in the state, shame, shame on you,” Washington said. “But I took an oath to serve. I am a black woman in black skin. So, don’t tell me how I don’t appreciate the sensitivity of a woman and the rights of women.”
ABC News’ Edith Honan contributed to this report.