OCEAN CITY – A preliminary report from the state Medical Examiner’s Office late yesterday estimates the dead fetus found wrapped in a blanket under the bathroom sink at an Ocean City residence last Thursday was approximately 26 weeks old and was likely stillborn.
The fetus’s body was discovered after Christy Freeman, 37, of Ocean City was taken to the hospital last Thursday with bleeding and other symptoms. Upon investigation, doctors discovered a placenta and the severed end of an umbilical cord. Freeman first told doctors she was not pregnant and had not had a baby, but later relented and told investigators she had given birth to a stillborn fetus, which she told police she had flushed down the toilet.
OCPD detectives then obtained a search and seizure warrant for Freeman’s residence on Sunset Drive in Ocean City and quickly discovered the fetus’s body wrapped in a blanket under the bathroom sink. A further search of the residence turned up the remains of two more deceased babies in plastic garbage bags inside a trunk in Freeman’s room. The remains of another fetus was found in a plastic garbage bag inside a recreational vehicle parked in the residence’s driveway, bringing the total to four dead babies found in and around Freeman’s home.
The initial findings of the Medical Examiner’s Office yesterday are significant because, at an estimated 26 weeks, the infant will be considered “viable” under Maryland’s new viable fetus statute, which essentially allows for the prosecution for murder or manslaughter of a viable fetus. The length of the gestation period is significant because it used to determine at which point a fetus is viable, meaning the point at which it could survive outside the womb.
In Maryland’s new viable fetus statute, the standard used is when the fetus could survive outside the womb with the help of medical equipment such as an incubator or breathing machine and not if could survive on its own.
The Maryland statute reads, “In this section, ‘viable’ means that stage when, in the best medical judgment of the attending physician based on the particular facts before the physician, there is a reasonable likelihood of the fetus’s sustained survival outside the womb.”
Maryland adopted the statute in 2005, joining 35 other states to enact similar legislation. The viable fetus statutes passed in Maryland and other states came in the wake of the Laci Peterson murder in California in 2002. Peterson’s husband Scott killed his pregnant wife, Laci, and lawmakers attempted to charge him with the murder of her unborn child as well, but there were no laws on the books at the time to allow that type of prosecution.
Despite being passed in 2005, Maryland’s viable fetus statute has not been tested, making the Freeman case in Ocean City one of the first in the state. Ironically, the very first case in Maryland under the statute is just starting to make its way through the legal system. In June, a Baltimore County man allegedly shot and killed his pregnant girlfriend in a shopping center parking lot and the state’s attorney in that jurisdiction is attempting to prosecute the man for the murder of his girlfriend’s unborn child as well.
Worcester County State’s Attorney Joel Todd on Monday acknowledged the case against Freeman could be difficult to prosecute because of the relatively small amount of case history.
“This is the first time a case like this will be prosecuted in Worcester County under the viable fetus statute,” Todd said during Monday’s press conference at the crime scene. “Of course, she is considered innocent until proven guilty. Since we believe the baby was stillborn, we will have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt she did something to cause the baby to be stillborn.”
The viable fetus statute could also have major implications on the prosecution of Freeman for the other three deceased babies found in and around her house. It remains uncertain when those infants died and how long they have been stored in and around the house, but if they predate the passage of the new Maryland law in 2005, they would not be eligible for murder or manslaughter prosecution under the statute.
The statute simply reads, ““This act shall be construed to apply only prospectively and may not be applied or interpreted to have any effect on or application to any crime committed before the effective date of this Act.”
Meanwhile, the investigation continues at the Sunset Drive crime scene where FBI forensics experts, along with OCPD detectives, yesterday began the meticulous process of excavating the vacant lot adjacent to the Freeman residence in search of more possible infant remains. Cadaver dogs used at the site over the weekend indicated there could be more remains buried on the grassy lot and late yesterday a backhoe began removing the top layer of sod. OCPD spokesman Barry Neeb said yesterday the excavation in search of remains was the first of its kind in Ocean City history.
The Medical Examiner’s Office is currently investigating each of the dead fetuses for a variety of reasons. First and foremost is an effort to determine if each of the babies belonged to Freeman. An effort is also being made to determine when the children died and how long they have been stored on the property. The medical examiner is also attempting to determine which, if any, of the babies were fathered by Freeman’s boyfriend, Ray Godman, who she operated her Classic Taxi company with.
While he has been questioned, Godman is not considered a suspect at this time although the situation is very static and changes by the hour.
“The woman we have in custody is the prime suspect, but we’re not ruling out any other suspects at this point,” said OCPD Chief Bernadette DiPino at yesterday’s press conference. “The boyfriend is not a suspect, but we’re not ruling anybody out as an accomplice.”
DiPino said yesterday investigators believe Freeman is the mother of each of the fetuses discovered.
“At this point, we believe all four belonged to Miss Freeman,” she said.
The excavation of the property continued until dusk last night and resumed this morning. DiPino said the cadaver dogs indicated there could be even more remains buried in the vacant lot.
“We have reasonable cause to believe there may be additional remains,” she said.
Todd said yesterday any additional charges will come only after the investigation is complete.
“If and when we develop probable cause, more charges could be pending,” he said.