A Drew County woman charged with abuse of a corpse and concealing a birth was sentenced to six years in prison Friday after a jury found her guilty of concealing a birth, but escaped a possible 10-year prison sentence when Circuit Judge Sam Pope issued a directed verdict acquitting her of abuse of a corpse following the death of her 33-week-old fetus.
In a rare move, Judge Pope granted Dermott attorney Chuck Gibson’s motion on behalf of his client, Anne Bynum, for a directed verdict of acquittal of abuse of a corpse after chief deputy prosecutor Frank Spain rested the state’s case against the 38-year-old woman.
In 1995, the Arkansas Supreme Court upheld an abuse of corpse conviction saying a woman’s act of placing her stillborn baby in a dumpster “amounted to physical mistreatment of a corpse in a manner offensive to a person of reasonable sensibilities.”
And, just last year the Arkansas Supreme Court upheld the abuse of corpse conviction of a Monticello man convicted of murdering then burying the body of a Warren woman. The high court noted that under Arkansas law, the definition of abuse of a corpse includes “concealing a corpse in a manner offensive to a person of reasonable sensibilities,” which the statute defines as “in a manner that is outside the normal practices of handling or disposing of a corpse.”
“It was certainly within the jury’s province to determine what would be considered the ‘normal practice’ of disposing of a corpse,” the court said.
But the Bynum case, Gibson argued, is not a dumpster case nor a burial. “We don’t have a dumpster case here,” Gibson said. “We don’t have a burial.”
Bynum admittedly placed what turned out to be two fetuses in a plastic sack and put it in the front seat of her car before eventually taking it to a hospital. Her actions prompt the questions: What is the proper and legal way to dispose of a dead fetus? How soon should the birth be reported?
Spain argued that Bynum did not immediately take the baby to the hospital. She placed the sack in her car then returned to her bed to sleep. Seven to eight hours later she took the plastic sack and its contents to the hospital.
“What did (the State) want her to do with the fetus?” Judge Pope asked, granting Gibson’s motion for a directed verdict on the abuse of a corpse charge.
Though he took the abuse of corpse decision out of the hands of the jury, Pope said he believed the charge of concealing a birth was a fact question for the jurors.
To prove the charge of concealing a birth, the state had to prove that Bynum hid the corpse of the fetus to conceal the birth or to prevent a determination of whether the child was born alive.
Faced with being kicked out of her parents’ home where she lived with her young son, Bynum hid the birth from her mother, said Charles Sidney Gibson, one of Bynum’s attorneys. She did not conceal the birth from a nurse friend, her priest, and two other attorneys.
Finding herself pregnant and unprepared to marry the baby’s father or take on the responsibility of caring for another child, Bynum said she began to look into adoption. Her plan, she said, was to go to a Little Rock hotel, deliver her 33-week-old fetus with the assistance of a nurse friend, and take the baby to Arkansas Children’s Hospital where she believed it would have a good chance of survival and could be adopted to a family in a better position to raise the child.
Her plan failed.
Over the course of three days in late March 2015, Bynum ingested 44 labor-inducing pills, but failed to deliver the baby in Little Rock as planned. She returned to Drew County where the 38-year-old divorced, college graduate and her young son were living with her parents.
She took eight more pills.
During the early morning hours of April 1, 2015, Bynum delivered a baby, unassisted, in the bathroom of her mother’s home. She placed what she said was a silent, unmoving baby into a plastic sack and put the sack in the front seat of her car, then cleaned the bathroom and went to bed. “I was so tired,” she said.
About seven hours later, at 10:45 a.m., Bynum took the deceased fetus and attached placenta to the hospital.
The jury watched a recorded interview in which Bynum, in the presence of her attorney Charles Sidney Gibson, told Lt. Tim Nichols about the events leading up to and following the birth.
Asked why she didn’t have an abortion, Bynum said she said she couldn’t do it again. “I was hoping to give her (the baby) away,” she said.
Asked why she wanted to induce labor, Bynum said she was getting bigger and it was becoming more difficult to lie and pass off her pregnancy as a fibroid problem. She said she knew a number of people who have healthy children born during that term of pregnancy.
Asked when was the last time she felt the baby move, Bynum said a week prior to the birth. Asked why she didn’t call 911 when she realized she was giving birth, she said she lived in a rural area with poor cell service. Asked why she didn’t wake her mother, she said she was convinced her mother would kick her out of the house because her mother knew about one of her previous five abortions, as well as a DUI.
Bynum was questioned extensively about the drugs she used to induce labor. She said she learned about the drugs through online research.
“Did you know the pills could cause death to the baby?” Lt. Nichols asked Bynum.
“No, it didn’t say that,” Bynum said, adding that from what she understood the pills could be dangerous if used in conjunction with another drug.
Nichols said everything he read about the drugs indicated that the pills could be fatal.
Before taking the deceased baby to the hospital the morning of April 1, Bynum said she tried to call two local doctors to get an appointment. The earliest available appointment was 3:45 p.m the following day, she said.
“Did you tell them what was going on?” Nichols asked.
“I said I had a miscarriage,” Bynum said.
However, Nichols said he contacted the physicians and learned that one had several openings that day and Bynum did not disclose to the physicians’ staff the nature of her problem.
“What was the doctor supposed to do with a deceased baby?” Gibson asked Nichols.
Bynum then contacted an attorney (not the Gibsons) she previously sought advice about an adoption. The attorney contacted the funeral home to ask what should be done. The funeral home advised her to take deceased baby to the hospital.
Bynum didn’t know until weeks later that the sack she took to the hospital contained not one, but two fetuses. In addition to the 33-week-old fetus, the sack contained a smaller, less developed fetus.
Based upon the degree of masceration of the two fetuses, a forensic pathologist at the state Crime Lab estimated a 16-week gestational age for the smaller fetus and 33 weeks for the more developed fetus.
The pathologist, who had training in obstetrics prior to becoming a forensic pathologist, said a baby with a gestational age of 33 weeks can possibly survive if it receives immediate medical attention.
An 8-man, 4-woman Drew County jury believed the the state proved its case, that Bynum hid the baby in her car for seven or eight hours to conceal the birth or to prevent a determination of whether the child was born alive.
The jury deliberated only 25 minutes before finding Bynum guilty. After another 30 minutes of deliberation, the jury sentenced her to six years in prison.
She will be eligible for parole after serving one year.