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The case against Bei Bei Shuai

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Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry never expected the prosecution of Chinese immigrant Bei Bei Shuai to become a cause célèbre. It also has become a battleground over prosecutorial discretion and how far a defense attorney can go in representing her client.

“I would honestly say I did not anticipate that it would be a national and international controversy,” Curry said regarding the murder and attempted feticide charges brought against Shuai in January 2011 – one of the first major cases Curry’s office filed after he was sworn in.

Bei_Bei.jpg Defense attorney Linda Pence, left, said she never expected murder and attempted feticide charges to be filed against her client, Bei Bei Shuai, right. (IL Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

Shuai, 34 at the time, was charged after her newborn daughter, Angel, died days after her delivery by emergency caesarian section at Indiana University Health Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis. Shuai had told friends that she consumed rat poison days earlier in an attempted suicide after the baby’s father jilted her when her pregnancy was almost at full term. Her friends persuaded her to seek medical attention.

After she was charged, Shuai spent 435 days in the Marion County Jail before a divided Court of Appeals ruled she should not be denied bail, and she ultimately was freed on $50,000 bond. One appellate court judge dissented, saying the grant of bond wasn’t enough and that she would dismiss the charges altogether.

Shuai’s trial is set for Dec. 3. Meanwhile, Shuai defense attorney Linda Pence, of Pence Hensel LLC in Indianapolis, is challenging every aspect of the case, including the investigation and the custody of Shuai’s medical records and those of Shuai’s daughter. She’s seeking to limit the admissibility of that and other evidence.

“This case has got every legal, medical, ethical issue you can imagine,” Pence said. She said that at the heart of the case, she believes statutes meant to protect pregnant women from violence against them by third parties are being bent in an alarming way to prosecute a despondent woman.

“I never believed the prosecution would actually charge her with murder and felonies,” Pence said, noting Shuai’s case is unprecedented in Indiana and that suicide isn’t a crime.

“Any woman or man who tried to kill themselves by doing what she did – obviously she’s a vulnerable woman – and for them to put her in this position is, I believe, cruel,” Pence said. “This is a young woman who should have been protected and taken care of instead of prosecuted. … It’s nonsense.”

But Curry said the language of the murder and attempted feticide statutes is plain, and he had no hesitation about filing charges once facts of the case were known because Shuai’s conduct fell within that language. That includes Shuai’s suicide note in which she wrote that she was taking the baby with her, he said.

Those looking for larger issues in Shuai’s prosecution have blown the case out of proportion, according to Curry.

“I’m not sure it represents anything,” he said of the prosecution, other than his department enforcing criminal laws. “Contrary to public debate, it has nothing to do with pro-life, abortion,” he said, or representations that his office is “prosecuting suicide” or “criminalizing pregnancy,” as advocates for Shuai contend.

“Those statements are clearly over the top,” he added. “It’s stunning how much misinformation there is about this case.”

On the defensive

Pence has been outspoken in her defense of Shuai, including a fundraising email campaign that urged people to donate to a legal defense fund that Pence established for Shuai. The contents of that solicitation prompted Curry to ask Marion Superior Judge Sheila Carlisle to admonish Pence for comments the prosecutor said were made outside the Rules of Professional Conduct and that could taint potential jurors.

In response, Pence accused Curry’s office in an Aug. 6 supplemental filing of “pursuing a concerted policy and practice of attacking and attempting to intimidate defense counsel who … were challenging the office’s prosecutions.”

Terry Curry Curry

Pence alleged that similar “tactics” had been used against defense counsel representing Thomas Hardy, who was convicted of killing Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Officer David Moore, and defense counsel representing David Bisard, the IMPD officer charged with reckless homicide and other counts related to a crash that killed motorcyclist Eric Wells and seriously injured two others. Messages seeking comment from those defense attorneys were not returned.

Pence’s filing alleges the prosecutor’s office employed “a litigation strategy directed at defense lawyers who are appropriately describing the inappropriate exercise of prosecutorial discretion and the serious deficiencies in criminal cases filed by this office.”

Curry scoffed at such suggestions.

“We have no concerns whatsoever if counsel want to raise funds for a defense fund for their client,” he said. But his office argued that the solicitation sought to materially prejudice potential jurors by stating, among other things, that Shuai had no prior criminal history, misstating the potential sentence and stating that Shuai cannot effectively fight the charges without financial assistance.

“I don’t begrudge anyone having a zealous, aggressive, competent defense. That’s not the issue,” he said. The request to admonish the defense, Curry said, was a reminder that “all of us need to be careful of what we say in the pending cases.”

Carlisle said she will rule on the motion to admonish by Aug. 31.

Those not involved with the case may say what they wish. Curry said he’s received thousands of emails from petition sites and other sources urging the charges be dropped. They suggest the specter of prosecutions of women who miscarry or those whose babies were harmed due to the mother’s addiction, for instance.

Asked how much the pressure weighs on his decision to proceed with the case, Curry said “none.” But he allowed that if new developments or circumstances arise, “we would clearly re-evaluate the appropriateness of the prosecution.”

But many in the mental health, women’s rights and other fields are concerned about the prosecution. At least 15 parties have filed amicus briefs urging the charges against Shuai be dropped, according to court records.

Pence said Curry is disingenuous in saying the prosecution won’t open the door to more women being charged with feticide in cases where the baby doesn’t survive and the mother’s actions come under scrutiny. “For him to say this case will not affect pregnant women … he’s wrong. It will.”

The case has played out in the international press as well as in court pleadings. The United Kingdom-based Guardian, which boasts that is has the third-largest global online newspaper audience, published a story about Shuai’s case as well as a video interview. Curry subpoenaed the video; Pence said the Marion County court could not enforce such an order in London.

“If a defendant makes statements about the case, that is fair game,” Curry said.

Costly case

Pence said that since she took Shuai’s case in March 2011, her firm has dedicated $600,000 in pro bono legal work. The legal defense fund has raised more than $7,000.

“It’s 50 percent of my time, easy,” she said. “It’s a big drain, but once you get involved in something like this, you can’t walk away from it. I just don’t have to file bankruptcy while doing it.”

Curry said the prosecutor’s office offered a plea deal to Shuai, proposing to drop the murder charge if Shuai agreed to plead guilty to attempted feticide. The deal was rejected, but Curry said it remains on the table for a way both sides can avoid further time and expense.

“I certainly assume at this point it will go to trial,” Curry said.•

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  1. Am I the only one who sees that the City is essentially giving away the MSA site AND giving millions to build new buildings on the site when this site would be the perfect place for the Justice Complex? Across from City-County, check; keeping it centrally located, check, etc. It's my understanding that the GM site must be purchased by the City from Motors Liquidation Company. STOP WASTING WHAT WE ALREADY HAVE AND OUR TAX DOLLARS! The Ballard Administration has not been known for it's common sense...never voted for him and never will!

  2. This guy sounds like the classic molester/manipulator.

  3. Louis D. Brandeis was born in 1856. At 9 years of age it would have been 1865. The Brandeis family did not own slaves. My source Louis D. Brandeis: A Life, by Melvin L. Urofsky.

  4. My name is Matthew Lucas Major, I recently went through a jury trial in Bloomington , In. It was the week of Feb 19-21. Although I have been incarcerated since August 5, 2014. The reason I 'am writing to you sir is on the 21 of February the jury came in with a very excessive and wrongful verdict of guilty on 6 child molesting charges against my daughter who was 9 at the time I was accused. I also had 2 other Felonies one of Intimidation and 1 of Sexual Vicarious Gratification. Judge Marc Kellam on the second day of trial gave me a not guilty on those 2 felonies. The jury was sent out during that time and when brought back Judge Kellam told them to not concern themselves with the 2 Felonies that he ruled on them. They were told to not let evidence they had already heard influence there verdicts. I never in my life touched any child sexually and definitely not with my own daughter. When I was arrested Detective Shawn Karr told me I would be convicted guilty just on my daughters word even without evidence. That's just what happened. my public defender did me so wrong he never once proved to the court and jury all the lies the child told, and Jeremy Noel my public defender could of proven the lies easily. The stories in Serenity's depositions and Forensic interview changed and were not consistent as Prosecutor Darcie Fawcett claimed they were. Yet my attorney never mentioned that. The facts that the child accused me of full penetration in her vagina and rectum was proven lies. Doctor Roberta Hibbard of Riley hospital in Indianapolis confirmed Serenity's hymen intact, no scars, no tearing, no signs of rape to her. Yet my attorney didn't use that knowledge . the DNA was all in my favor. I tell you I will spend my entire life in prison going through rape and beatings etc. even Judge Kellam abused his authority by telling the jurors to listen and believe what the prosecutors side in evidence like my daughters testimony. In one interview with the detectives my daughter got flustered with her mom and said on camera " I'm saying what you told me to mom"!! Yet Mr. Noel said nor did anything to even resemble a defense attorney. Judge Kellam allowed edited version of a taped conversation between the child and her mother. Also Judge Kellam allowed the Prosecutor too bring in to my case a knife found under my seat, the knife wasn't part of my case. She was allowed by my attorney and the judge to put a huge picture of it on the screen and huge picture of my naked privates in a full courtroom and open court. Ms. Fawcett says to jury see how easy Mr. Major could reach the knife and cut his Childs throat. Even though I had no weapons charge against these cases. This gave the jurors prejudice thought against me thinking I threatened her with that knife and how scared she would of been knowing i could get it and kill her. On my sentencing court March 19, 2014 my public defender told Judge Kellam he wish to resign from being my attorney and wished for the court to give me outside council to file a error to trial or appeal. We were denied. Now after openly knowing my public defender don't want to represent me he has to. Well when as parents we make our kids clean a room when they really don't wish to, well the child will but don't mean she will do a good job, that's where I'm at with Mr. Noel. please dont ignore mine and my families pleas for your help . we have all the legal proof you could need to prove Im innocent. Please dont make my spend years in prison innocent when you can fix this wrong. Im not saying Im a perfect man or that I was a perfect dad to my 2 children none of us are. Ive made some bad choices in life and I paid for them. But I didnt ever touch or rape my daughter . I love my children with all my heart. And now through needing attention and a ex-wife who told my granny several times she wish she could put me in prison to get me out of their lives. Well my ex finally accomplished her goal. Sad part is she is destroying our daughter with all this horrific lies and things she taught my daughter to say. My daughter will need therapist to ever hope for a chance of a normal life after what she had done to her by her mom and their side of the family. My daughter told everyone even on stand she had a dream months before i supposedly molested her in this dream I was molesting her and when I finally did it matched her dream perfectly. She admitted to watching movies about little girls being molested and watching U-Tube videos about child molesting all before it happened supposedly to her. Doesn't that sound very unusual that a non molested 9 yr old would need to know so much about being molested? The only reason I could think a 9 year old would need so much information is to be prepared to know what to say and be able to say how it felt what took place etc.. So when questioned by authorities she would be prepared. And there again sir if a parent is pre grooming a 9 year old child she would need intimate details . Like telling her daughter about a couple moles on my private area. The child admitted to sneaking my cell and looking many many times at nudes of me and my girlfriend even one where my penis was entering my girlfriends vagina. In that picture my moles are obvious. Yet when prosecutor showed everyone in court my privates and pictures of the moles she said the only way the child would know about them is if she saw them for herself. My attorney once again said nothing about the pictures my child saw. Or could a ex-wife be able to describe my moles to help her case against getting rid of me? I beg you help me. This is my very existence. Ive lost everything , a good job, a wonderful girlfriend, my freedom, but worse thing Ive lost is my children. They were my reason to get up every morning and strive to be better. The wonderful bond I had with my Serenity is gone. After this I would be afraid to even hug her for fear of what next can they do to me. I'm not afraid to tell you I sit here in this cell and try to hold back my tears. Everyone knows you cant show weakness in prison. My life has already been threatened here at Wabash Valley Prison. After only 3 days of arrival. I was tricked into signing a waiver now Im in G Block General Population with 6 child molesting felony charges. Mrs. Hart as a 18 year old I almost died hooked to machines in hospital almost 1 month and now I know that fear was childish compared to this . I cant help but put emotions in this, after all Mrs. Hart Im human and God help Me I never been more afraid in my life. I didnt hurt my little girl I didnt touch her sexually. As much as it shreds me and fills my mind what Im facing I worry more about my mom and granny because of their great love for me mam they are suffering so deeply. I aint done this things but my loved ones suffering right along beside me and If you take my case you will be in essence freeing them also. I sent momma this letter and asked her to email it to you. I'm scared I have been done so unjustly by our legal system and I need you to fix this and give me freedom. I ask you please don't just ignore my pleas. Here in America its nice to be able to trust our legal justice system, well they destroyed my and my loved ones trust in our justice system . And I'm trusting in You !!! My entire family is suffering this nightmare with me. My 77 year old granny had a stroke and isn't doing so well. My single mother that raised 3 kids alone is dying from Lupus and since my arrest has stayed so sick and weary. Our lives torn to peices by a government I was taught I could trust in. my momma has tried so many innocent project and wrongfully accused and cant get anywhere. please please help me. A quote from the late Nelson Mandela: To be free is not merely to cast off ones chains, But to live in a way that respects and enhances The Freedom Of Others. I have Faith in you and your clinic to cast my chains off and give me freedom I do deserve as a wrongfully accused Man, son, brother, father, friend. Matthew Major DOC# 246179 Cause # : 53c02-1308-FA-000779 God Bless you. Please contact me with your decision so I know you made a life changing decision for me , just please at least write me so I know you care enough about your citizens to respond to cries for your help. You can speak openly with my mother Charlotte Spain (828) 476-0406: 71 Lakeview Dr. Canton, NC 28716 Thank You Matthew Major I know yall get thousands of request and inmates claiming innocence, and each person who are innocent deserve to have organizations like yours willing to fight for them and I give yall so much Thanks and I thank God everyday yall are out there caring enough to help free the innocents. Since discovering firsthand how easily lives and families can be destroyed by Poor Defense attorneys not doing their job . And Prosecutors allowed to do as they please in court

  5. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

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