June 10, 2007
Women are worth more than slaves but less than fetuses, evidently
PHOENIX — A Mesa man convicted of second-degree murder in the slaying of an unborn child was sentenced Friday to 36 years in prison.
Jorge Mario Gurrola, 25, was found guilty in January by a Maricopa County Superior Court jury of striking his pregnant 21-year-old girlfriend in 2005, causing her to suffer brain damage that authorities said eventually led to her death.
Gurrola was sentenced to 16 years in the death of Monica Sanchez and 20 years for the killing of her fetus.
Yes indeed, you read that right: Gurrola was sentenced to 25% more time for killing the fetus (see comments below regarding proper terminology) than he was for killing the woman. I’ve been trying to find more information on this case, something that might explain the discrepancy between the two sentences. I haven’t had much luck.
I did find a couple of references to the laws in play in the situation, such as in this article: “The state law defining second-degree murder was revised in April 2005 to include the killings of unborn children,” and “Gurrola’s sentencing was postponed in March while lawyers investigated whether the state’s tough Dangerous Crimes Against Children statute applied. The statute requires significantly longer sentences.” The section of the Arizona criminal code that defines second-degree murder is here; the “Dangerous Crimes Against Children statute” is here. The latter seems to provide the rationale behind the 20 years, as it states that
a person who is at least eighteen years of age or who has been tried as an adult and who stands convicted of . . . second degree murder of a minor who is under twelve years of age [a category which includes “unborn children”] . . . may be sentenced to life imprisonment and is not eligible for suspension of sentence, probation, pardon or release from confinement on any basis except as specifically authorized by section 31-233, subsection A or B until the person has served thirty-five years or the sentence is commuted. If a life sentence is not imposed pursuant to this subsection, the person shall be sentenced to a presumptive term of imprisonment for twenty years.
So, because Gurrola was convicted of second-degree murder of the “unborn child”, he was given the presumptive term of twenty years. Okay. He was also convicted of second-degree murder of the woman, and I’m having a harder time finding basic sentencing guidelines for second-degree murder of an adult, but let’s say Gurrola got the minimum/presumptive term in that case, too. I appreciate that ARS 13-604.01 is an attempt to make the point that children need to be protected. It just strikes me as a nasty kettle of fish: is an eleven-year-old more deserving of protection than a thirteen-year-old? (Further confusion: the above quotation is from subsection B; subsection M contains a list of crimes that will be considered dangerous crimes against children if “committed against a minor who is under fifteen years of age,” and the list includes second-degree murder. So I guess if a person kills a fourteen-year-old, it’s a “dangerous crime against children,” but the above sentencing guidelines don’t apply? Hmm.) And then, ultimately, the apparent difference in sentencing guidelines sends, to me, a clear message: the vessel in which a fetus grows is not worth as much as the fetus itself.
But wait, there’s more! I found the following passage in this article (emphasis added):
Gurrola asked his cousin to call 911 but when paramedics arrived, Sanchez was not breathing. They took her to the hospital where doctors discovered she was up to seven weeks pregnant and could hear the heart beat of the child. She was pronounced brain-dead two days later.
For starters, I find the statement that doctors “could hear the heart beat of the child” to be an interesting bit of commentary. I don’t know that saying “ZOMG he killed a baby!!!” would have revealed the author’s intent and opinion more than the actual phrase used does. My main point, though, is that Sanchez was “up to seven weeks pregnant.” An embryo at seven weeks is not quite the size of a kidney bean, and yet Gurrola received a harsher punishment for indirectly killing that embryo than for directly killing Sanchez herself.
The title of this post refers to the fact that in the Constitution, a slave was deemed to be worth 3/5 of a person (which is to say, an adult male) for census purposes. In sentencing for this case, we have the implication that an adult woman is worth 4/5 of an embryo or a fetus. I suppose that begs the question of whether or not an embryo or a fetus is worth the same as an adult male. I wonder.