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Appeals Panel to Trial Judge: Leave Abortions Out of Sentence

April 17, 1985

PEORIA, Ill. (AP) _ An Illinois appellate court says a trial judge had no business using a woman’s three abortions as a measure of her values in deciding how long she should be imprisoned for killing her live-in boyfriend.

In sentencing Roberta McCumber, 24, last year to 13 years in prison for the 1983 shooting and dismemberment of Jeffrey Williams, 26, Circuit Judge Peter Paolucci of Peoria noted she had had three abortions.

″What value, may I ask, does she place on human life?″ he said.

But the 3rd District Appellate Court’s majority said in a 2-1 opinion Monday, ″Where it is clear ... that the sentencing judge has imposed a harsher sentence because the defendant lawfully exercised her constitutional rights (to obtain an abortion), we are compelled to reverse the sentence.″

Judges ordered re-sentencing of Ms. McCumber, the divorced mother of a 4- year-old girl. They also ordered the new sentencing judge to work from a pre- sentence report that omits any reference to her abortions.

Peoria County State’s Attorney John Barra said his office would ask the Illinois Supreme Court to uphold the original sentence, adding he thought the case’s evidence justified a 20-year maximum prison term allowed by the law.

Judy Goldsmith, president of the National Organization for Women, hailed the decision, saying Tuesday that having an abortion ″is no commentary on her (a woman’s) character, or her morality or her regard for life.″

″For the judge to have made that remark was completely irresponsible and inflammatory,″ she said from NOW’s Washington offices.

In the dissenting opinion, Justice James Heiple saidPaolucci had raised a proper question about Ms. McCumber’s values, adding that a landmark 1973 Supreme Court opinion legalizing abortion ″does not say that abortion is a commendable act. It does not say that the perpetrator is entitled to be named Mother of the Year. ... It simply says she can do it.″

Ms. McCumber was convicted in December 1983 of being guilty but mentally ill of voluntary manslaughter, concealing a homicide and obstructing justice.

She was sentenced to 10 years for the voluntary manslaughter conviction, to be followed by three years for concealing a homicide. She could have received 15 years on the first charge and five on the second.

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