A fetus can be considered a victim when the mother is assaulted, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled in an Allegan County case called “reprehensible’’ by one of the judges.
Samuel Demetrious Ambrose was convicted of punching his disabled, pregnant girlfriend and holding her head underwater after dumping her out of a wheelchair and into a ditch in southern Allegan County.
Allegan County Circuit Court Judge Kevin W. Cronin sentenced Ambrose to a minimum of four years in prison for the May 2014 assault and witness intimidation. His sentence was lengthened because the judge counted the woman’s unborn child as a second victim.
“I can’t remember when I’ve been so appalled at a defendant’s behavior of what – what cruelty, what total disregard for human life and decency there was in this particular incident,’’ Cronin said at sentencing. He compared the assault to water-boarding.
Ambrose, 34, appealed his sentence, arguing that the unborn child should not have been counted as a victim.
In a six-page published decision released Wednesday, Oct. 26, the Court of Appeals disagreed.
“We conclude the trial court did not err in counting the fetus as a ‘victim’ when fashioning a sentence,’’ justices wrote.
The appeals court noted there are already laws making it a felony to cause a miscarriage or stillbirth through criminal conduct.
“The facts of this case are reprehensible, leaving no doubt that (Ambrose) placed the mother and her fetus in both danger of death and physical injury,’’ Appeals Court Judge Peter D. O’Connell wrote. “The trial court’s departure was minimal and its reason for departure were extensive.’’
Cronin exceeded the recommended sentencing guidelines by three months. He sentenced Ambrose to between 2 years, 8 months and four years for felonious assault. A conviction of witness intimidation earned him a second term of between 1 year, four months and four years.
The judge ordered that the sentences run consecutive, meaning they have to be served back-to-back rather than at the same time. Ambrose is not eligible for release until May 2018.
O’Connell called details of the case “reprehensible,’’ saying it leaves no doubt that Ambrose placed the mother and her fetus “in both danger of death and physical injury.’’
Cronin echoed a similar sentiment at a December 2014 sentence hearing.
“I just can’t wrap my head around it,’’ the judge said, according to court transcripts. “It’s probably going to stick with me for quite some time.’’
Ambrose held the woman’s head under water in a ditch, which the judge called “callousness to the max degree.’’
“This is something you’d only do to someone you’re trying to destroy and this lady was pregnant,’’ Cronin said. “It’s just unspeakably, inhumanly belligerent and disrespectful to the child she was carrying as well as to herself.’’