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Lawyer for mom charged with murder for eating poison while pregnant says death cause unproven

The attorney for a Chinese immigrant charged with murder for eating rat poison in an attempt to kill herself while she was pregnant argued Wednesday that authorities haven't proved that the toxin is what caused the premature infant's death.

The case in Indiana has drawn international attention from reproductive rights advocates who claim it could set a precedent by which pregnant women could be prosecuted for smoking or other behavior that authorities deem dangerous to their unborn child. But Wednesday, the focus shifted to the evidence against Bei Bei Shuai (pronounced Bay Bay Shway), a 35-year-old Shanghai native.

Linda Pence, who's defending Shuai, questioned the pathologist who performed the autopsy on the infant, as Pence tried to persuade a judge to exclude the doctor's testimony from Shaui's murder trial. Pence argued that Dr. Jolene Clouse made up her mind before the January 2011 autopsy and didn't perform medical tests that might have indicated a different cause for the brain bleeding that killed Angel Shuai.

"She walked in with a bias from the get-go," Pence said, arguing that Clouse based her conclusions on what she had heard from police and doctors, not on the autopsy.

Shuai was eight months pregnant when she ate rat poison on Dec. 23, 2010, after her boyfriend broke up with her. She was hospitalized and gave birth to Angel on Dec. 31. The baby died three days later. Prosecutors contend Shuai meant for her then-unborn child to die with her.

While questioning Clouse, Pence cited a litany of possible causes for brain bleeding, including a drug Shuai was given in the hospital. Clouse acknowledged she had not tested for them and insisted there was no reason to suspect anything other than rat poison killed the baby.

Clouse also said blood tests would have been inaccurate because the infant had received blood transfusions. "It's a mixture of her blood with someone else's blood," she told Deputy Prosecutor T. K. Morris during cross-examination.

But, Pence maintained, "There are no scientific tests out there that are validating your finding, correct?"

"Scientific tests, no," Clouse answered.

Pence also said there's no scientific proof that the toxin in rat poison can be transferred from a mother to a fetus. She said in the only medical study she was able to find of a pregnant woman who ate rat poison, both mother and fetus survived.

"Rat poison kills" by causing massive bleeding, Morris argued. "That's why Bei Bei Shuai went to the hospital. And they were treating Angel Shuai for thinning of the blood."

At the time of the autopsy, Clouse had about 2 ½ years of experience as a forensic pathologist with the Marion County coroner's office. She is currently a professor of forensic pathology at the Indiana University Medical School in Muncie.

Clouse said she had not consulted experts in fetal medicine or toxicology and had done limited research before the autopsy. She said she had found one study that supported her conclusions, but she couldn't remember where she had seen it or who had done it, and hadn't saved it in her records.

Pence also questioned how Clouse could have set aside her opposition to abortion in such a sensitive case.

Pence argued that Clouse's testimony should be barred because she didn't meet the legal requirements for an expert witness since her medical experience was limited. Morris argued that Clouse was a medical expert because she was a doctor and had performed about 1,000 autopsies.

Marion County Judge Sheila Carlisle is not expected to rule for several weeks. Shuai's trial on charges of murder and feticide is set for April. She was released on bond in May.

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