Purvi Patel, 33, entered the St. Joseph County Courthouse with her long black hair pulled back and the lower half of her face covered with a white scarf. She communicated with her lawyer in whispers and did not speak during the sentencing, even as the judge chastised her.
“You, Ms. Patel, are an educated woman of considerable means,” Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Hurley said. “When you found yourself in this position, you were able to safely and legally terminate this pregnancy, if that’s what you wanted to do. But you chose to take the matter into your own hands.”
At the time of Patel’s arrest, she worked at a Moe’s Southwest Grill her family owns in Mishawaka, Ind., and lived with her conservative Hindu parents and ailing grandparents. Her parents sat directly behind her during the sentencing.
Sue Ellen Braunlin, co-president of the Indiana Religious Coalition for Reproductive Justice, pointed out that Patel is the first pregnant woman to be convicted under Indiana’s feticide law. The danger, she said, is prosecutors have shown they can now persecute women who miscarry.
“I am devastated not only for Purvi, but by what this means for Indiana,” said Braunlin, who has been in frequent communication with Patel throughout the case. “I was hoping they would just get their damn precedent set and not make her the scapegoat.”
At least 38 U.S. states have laws against the intentional killing of a fetus. Indiana’s feticide law was passed in 2009, after a bank robber shot an Indianapolis bank teller who was pregnant with twins and she lost ?the pregnancy.
Patel’s case began the night of July 13, 2013, when she arrived, bleeding from her vagina, at St. Joseph Regional Medical Center. The obstetrician who treated Patel found a protruding ?umbilical cord.
At first, Patel denied she had given birth, but after being questioned by another doctor, she admitted she’d delivered a baby at her home and did not see it moving or breathing. According to court documents, she told the doctors she miscarried and placed the body in a dumpster at a nearby shopping center
Kelly McGuire, the second doctor to examine Patel, drove to search for the body in the dumpster. Police officers joined the search and found the body, wrapped in plastic bags, behind the Moe’s Southwest Grill that Patel’s family owns.
Patel, by then a criminal suspect, was interviewed by police at 3 a.m. after she woke from a surgery to her remove her placenta.
In February, a jury convicted Patel of feticide and neglect of a dependent.
Her attorney, Jeffrey Sanford, argued at Monday’s sentencing that there was no proof Patel had actually taken abortion drugs or that the baby could have lived if the mother had acted differently.
“The state wants to sensationalize things and emphasize that it was placed in a dumpster,” he said. “I don’t think that Ms. Patel is the monster that she has been portrayed to be.”
Patel’s father testified during the trial that the family has strict beliefs against sex before marriage. Nic Patel said in court the family would have loved the child regardless.
The father of the baby is allegedly a married man, who was not identified during the trial.
“His name was never brought into the equation,” Braunlin said.
During the sentencing, both sides presented conflicting theories about the age of the baby and its viability.
Patel was 27 weeks pregnant when she delivered a baby boy, Chief Deputy Prosecutor Mark Roule said during the sentencing, and had a chance to survive given proper medical care.
The defense has insisted the fetus was between 23 and 24 weeks. Patel’s lawyer said two doctors testified during the trial that the baby could not have been alive more than a few minutes.
“I’m at a loss for what Ms. Patel could have done in these circumstances,” he said. “I don’t think this is a case where the defendant sat there and watched the child die.”
The prosecution also said the charges — aborting a fetus and neglecting a child — were separate and distinct.
The feticide charge against Patel requires only intent to unlawfully terminate a pregnancy, Roule said, and in this case the pregnancy was terminated with a live birth triggered by abortion pills.
“What is the reason she chose to terminate her pregnancy in the manner with which she did so?” he said. “Preference and convenience.”
He cited Patel’s text messages from weeks before the incident as evidence of her intent to abort the fetus using pills she ordered online from Hong Kong.
“I’d rather try that route than the traditional way,” he read, quoting a text from Patel to a friend about ordering the pills. Another text message revealed Patel was unsure about the dose of the medication. “This kit that I have is different than I read online.”
The second charge addressed Patel’s actions after she delivered the baby.
“His only chance at survival was his mother,” the prosecutor said. “In this case, his mother did nothing, left him on the floor to die, before putting him in the trash.”
The defense hoped to spare Patel jail time and proposed she serve her punishment through St. Joseph County Community Corrections, a local corrections program and alternative to imprisonment at the state level.
Before passing sentence, Judge Elizabeth Hurley said she had taken into account mitigating factors, such as Patel’s lack of a criminal record, and aggravating factors, including Patel’s decision to initially lie to the doctors at the hospital.
“The crux of this case, in my opinion, really lies in the choices that you made after you delivered the baby,” Hurley said to Patel. “There were choices you could have made that you didn’t make. You could have called 911. You could have called down to family members who were home at the time.”
Patel sat still, staring forward across the courtroom.
“You were in the ultimate position of trust over the youngest of victims,” Hurley said.
Hurley sentenced Patel to 30 years for the neglect charge, with 10 years suspended, and six years for the feticide charge, which will be served concurrently.
Patel cried and hugged her mother as the court adjourned.
“I love you,” Patel said as they embraced. By now she’d removed the scarf, and her hair, loose from its tie, was covering her face.
“All right,” a bailiff said gently, guiding Patel away from her family so she could be handcuffed.
Patel filed out of the courtroom, her head down and her arms bound behind her back.