Pennsylvania Man Convicted Under Unborn Victims Law

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Nov 18, 2003   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Pennsylvania Man Convicted Under Unborn Victims Law

by Maria Gallagher Staff Writer
November 18, 2003

Wilkes-Barre, PA ( — A Pennsylvania murder case has focused renewed attention on the Commonwealth’s fetal homicide law that allows prosecutors to punish criminals who kill or injure unborn children as a result of an attack on a pregnant woman.

Twenty-six-year-old Matthew Bullock has been convicted in Wilkes-Barre for killing his girlfriend and his unborn child. Bullock was found guilty but mentally ill in the murder of Lisa Hargrave and their child. As a result of the conviction, Bullock has been sentenced to serve 20 to 60 years in a secure mental health facility.

Bullock admitted to police that he strangled the 33-year-old Hargrave following an argument. He then hid her body in a bedroom closet.

The prosecutor in the case noted that, when Bullock killed Hargrave, two lives were lost. Bullock himself called the killings "a tragic accident," but said that he felt remorse for the incident.

"I’m sorry to anyone who was affected by Lisa’s death. Those two words don’t amount to a whole lot, but it’s all I have to offer. It was a tragic accident," Bullock said.

The defense argued that Bullock was severe mentally ill, that he was suffering from hallucinations, and that he was intoxicated at the time of the killings.

Assistant District Attorney Mike Vough told a local newspaper, "We are very happy with the sentence. The judge recognized that he needs help, but he also needs to be incarcerated. He will be sent away to a maximum security prison setting for up to 60 years, where he will no longer be a danger to society or himself."

Hargrave’s 12-year-old daughter, Kera, gathered nearly 800 signatures for a petition asking the judge to impose the maximum possible sentence.

Hargrave’s father, Daniel Hargrave, Sr., reacted to the sentence saying, "My daughter was a very, very kind person who would do anything to help anyone. She did not deserve to die the way she did."

If, at some point, Bullock is considered to be mentally capable of functioning in a public setting, he would be transferred to a state correctional facility to serve out his sentence.

Vough had asked the judge to impose a stiff sentence because Bullock took two lives. The judge agreed, noting that "two lives were criminally extinguished," when he imposed the sentence.

Pennsylvania’s fetal homicide law ensures that those who kill an unborn child, other than in an abortion, will be held criminally liable.

A similar law, now pending in Congress, would ensure that, if someone hurts or kills an unborn child during the commission of a federal crime of violence, the child will be considered a crime victim.

The legislation has been nicknamed "Laci and Conner’s Law," in honor of Laci and Conner Peterson, the California mother and unborn child who were apparently murdered last year. Laci’s husband, Scott, is being tried for the crimes.

Earlier this year, a Pennsylvania judge ruled that there was "no contradiction" or "double standard" between the Pennsylvania fetal homicide and abortion laws because, while a woman can choose abortion, she has no choice in an attack which results in the death of her unborn baby.

Erie County, PA Judge John Trucilla also dismissed arguments that the fetal homicide law does not consider whether the baby could live outside the womb.

"The state must prove only that the implanted embryo or fetus in the mother’s womb was living, that it once had a life and that it has life no longer."

Pennsylvania is one of more than two dozen states that have fetal homicide laws. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ruled that the law could be used to prosecute cases of murder, voluntary manslaughter, and aggravated assault.