In Ohio, a college student killed her baby, immediately after the baby was born. The student was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole. Cases like hers cause many of us to think of abortion. Is the murder of a newborn really so different from an abortion? Is it so different that it should land you in jail, for life? While an abortion is defended — even celebrated — as a right?
I will return to this in a moment. First, the recent case.
Emile Weaver comes from Clarington, Ohio, a dot on the Ohio River, across from West Virginia. Her first name is pronounced “Emily.” She went to Muskingum University, in New Concord. The institution is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA). Its most prominent graduate is John Glenn. Emile belonged to a sorority, Delta Gamma Theta (“a sisterhood dedicated to love and loyalty”).
In 2014, she got pregnant. She knew she was pregnant — she was even tested for it — but she was “in denial,” as they say. She denied the pregnancy to others, and she denied it to herself. She would put it as follows: “I said no so many times that, in my mind, none of this was happening.”
Her sorority sisters suspected she was pregnant. Emile gained weight, naturally, and she tried to disguise her pregnancy: by wearing baggy clothing and holding a pillow or stuffed animal in front of her stomach.
She behaved in ways that suggested she wanted to kill her baby. She drank. She smoked pot. She played dodgeball. She took a dietary supplement that can induce premature labor.
Why didn’t she get an abortion? That is a mystery. One day, she and her boyfriend set out for an abortion clinic. But the weather was bad and some of the roads were closed. They headed back. Emile never did abort the baby. Indeed, a mystery.
Unaborted, the baby came due. At around 8 in the morning on April 22, 2015, Emile went to a bathroom in the sorority house. There, she gave birth to a girl. Another sorority member, Moriah, heard sounds coming from the bathroom. They were “like a dying cat,” she would testify. Moriah heard “three or four cries,” each lasting a few seconds. She figured that someone was on her phone, “playing a game or something.”
Later, she wished she had broken the door down.
At some point, Emile went to the kitchen to get a knife. She cut the baby’s umbilical cord. Then she put her in a trash bag and took her out to the trash.
Emile texted her boyfriend: “No more baby.” “What?” he said. She repeated, “No more baby.” “How do you know?” “Taken care of. Don’t worry about it.” He rejoined, “I would like to know how you killed my kid.”
DNA testing would prove that the baby was not this guy’s kid. It was another guy’s kid. But paternity is not a relevant detail in this case. The environment of a modern campus is free-flowing.
The bathroom at Delta Gamma Theta was a mess. The toilet was spattered with blood. Apparently, there had been a feminine-hygiene problem. The house manager sent out a text to all the sisters: Whoever was responsible had better clean up the mess. “It looks like a murder scene.”
That night, four of the sisters went out for ice cream. They talked about Emile. Has she really been pregnant? How about all that blood in the bathroom? Could she have given birth this morning? One of the sisters had a suggestion: They should check out the trash bin. Others thought the idea was silly. But two of them actually went and checked.
They found the bag sitting by itself. It was heavy. And tied tight. They tore a hole in it. And saw a foot.
An autopsy showed that the baby had died of asphyxiation. The corpse was handed over to Emile’s family for burial. She did something interesting, Emile did: She named the baby. “Addison Grace Weaver.” She wrote letters to the baby. She picked out a headstone. There was a funeral.
Not until the funeral, she would tell the court, did the enormity of her act hit her. Emile was looking at the casket — a tiny casket. And she knew, with full force, what she had done.
She was arrested and held on a million-dollar bond. Her trial lasted four days. It took the jury barely an hour to convict her. The sentence was up to the judge, Mark C. Fleegle.
Emile said, “I stand before you a broken-down woman, asking for forgiveness and mercy. Words cannot express how sorry I am to my beautiful daughter Addison.” Judge Fleegle did not believe her remorse. He thought she was insincere. He cited one of the texts she had sent her boyfriend on the day of the murder: “Taken care of.” That was certainly true, he commented. The baby “was an inconvenience, and you took care of it.”
He could have sentenced Emile to life in prison with a chance for parole after 20 years. That’s what she and her attorney, R. Aaron Miller, were hoping for. Instead, he gave her the max: life without parole.
“I think Judge Fleegle hit it out of the park,” said the prosecutor, D. Michael Haddox. Aaron Miller has filed an appeal.
Fourteen years ago, in 2002, there was a similar case. A Muskingum student, Jennifer Bryant, killed her newborn, a son. She wrapped him in a blanket — alive — and threw him in the trash, where he died. She was represented by Miller. And prosecuted by Haddox. The judge was another man, however: Howard S. Zwelling. He sentenced Jennifer Bryant to three years. She was out in seven months.
Zwelling had to run for reelection, which he lost. A big reason was the Bryant case: Voters thought the sentence too light. No one can say that about Emile Weaver’s. She is 21 years old and facing life in prison. The only greater penalty would be execution.
What if she had simply aborted the child? Who would be the wiser, right? Emile would be graduating with her fellow Deltas.
In sketching this case, I am indebted to the reporting of Kate Snyder, who works for the Zanesville Times Recorder. Let me now recall another case — a case that had an impact on my thinking about abortion.
In the summer of 1983, I was between my freshman and sophomore years of college. I had a job as a camp counselor in Elgin, Ill., a town northwest of Chicago. In the Chicago Tribune, I read about a case out of Harvey, a town straight south of Chicago.
A baby had been born. His name was John Francis McKay. He was born with a cleft palate, a harelip, and a heart condition. His father, Daniel, told the doctor not to do anything “heroic.” Then, when John was 25 minutes old, his father took him to a corner of the delivery room and bashed his head against the floor. No more baby (to quote Emile Weaver, in one of her texts).
McKay was charged with murder. And a columnist in the Tribune said, in effect, “Is what he did so different from abortion? If the baby had been aborted some days or weeks before, everyone would have understood and applauded. And now, a murder charge?”
I wish I could remember who the columnist was. My researches have not turned up the answer. (They have turned up the case itself.) But I can tell you that the column made me think.
Lawyers in the case, as they questioned potential jurors, asked about abortion. What did the assembled citizens think of abortion? Obviously, the lawyers thought the issue relevant. Any honest person would, I think. (After a couple of mistrials, Daniel McKay was let off.)
At 25 minutes, John Francis McKay was bigger than he had been in gestation. When she was murdered, Addison Grace Weaver was bigger than she had been before. I must ask, in all sincerity, so what? A two-year-old is bigger than a one-year-old. A nine-year-old is bigger than a four-year-old. Are these things important?
Another memory from my teens: I was a great watcher of a new political show on CNN, Crossfire. One evening, they had a pro-lifer on. He was a funny-looking guy with a southern accent. Not a polished debater. He said that it was illegal to destroy an eagle’s egg. You could go to jail for it. Everyone knew that whatever was inside the egg would become an eagle. Therefore, it was precious. At the same time, we denied the personhood of the human fetus. You could destroy it without penalty. It was your right.
What a moron, I thought. A goober, a hayseed. A fanatic. Eagle’s eggs and babies! I was a very sophisticated teenager. Yet I found that I could not really answer the man. Who was the moron now?
“No more baby.” Isn’t that the point of an abortion? Isn’t that what you go for, when you go? “No more baby”? Judge Fleegle told Emile that her baby had been “an inconvenience, and you took care of it.” Could not the same be said about millions and millions of abortions? To be sure, there are very hard cases, and some pregnant women make a desperate, anguished decision. But aren’t other abortions simply a matter of . . . you know, taking care of it?
Emile Weaver took care of it with her own hands. That is, she killed her baby herself. Other women — her sorority sisters, perhaps — have others do the killing, in clinics. Emile could have too. It is neater, and it is of course lawful. But is it different, really and truly?
Deltas at Muskingum hated seeing the blood in the bathroom. They were traumatized by the whole episode, they later said. Abortion is usually out of sight and out of mind. Clean. Yet sometimes people see things: for example, garbage bins full of fetuses, outside clinics. They angrily object when they see them — not to abortion, but to their exposure to the fetuses. They should be shielded from such sights.
But what do people suppose fetuses are made of? Fairy dust? You can’t just blow them away, like dandelions. The flesh and blood has to be disposed of — sort of like Emile did.
We are to regard her as a monster, unfit to live among us. She is locked away for life. “Emile is not a bad girl,” her lawyer tells me. She did a very bad thing. A monstrous and evil thing. But is she worse — all that much worse — than her counterparts who dispose of their babies earlier and more neatly? I have a hard time buying it. And I think we are a deeply hypocritical society.