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September 15, 2011

ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS

AP Legal Affairs Writer

COLUMBUS — A man charged under a fetal homicide law was sentenced Thursday to 13 years in prison for taking his pregnant girlfriend to an abortion clinic at gunpoint.

In sentencing Dominic Holt-Reid, Judge Patrick Sheeran rejected a defense attorney’s argument that his client was guilty of much less serious domestic violence charges that had nothing to do with the fetus his girlfriend was carrying.

Attorney Larry Shoemaker argued that, at worst, his client committed the crimes of aggravated menacing and coercion for the threats he made against Yolanda Burgess in October.

“This is a run-of-the-mill domestic violence case,” Shoemaker said. “The mother is emotionally worked up but the baby’s not harmed in any way.”

But Sheeran said he couldn’t ignore a piece of evidence that Shoemaker himself introduced during his statement, the contents of a text message Burgess sent to her sister the morning Holt-Reid forced her to go to the clinic.

“If anything happens to me, Dominic Reid did it,” Shoemaker said, referring to the text.

Sheeran said that showed the amount of fear Burgess was experiencing that morning.

Burgess, who was who was three months pregnant and 26 years old at the time, did not go through with the procedure but instead passed a note to a clinic employee, who called police. She has since delivered a healthy baby.

Assistant Franklin County Prosecutor Jennifer Rausch, who asked for the maximum 20-year sentence, said Holt-Reid showed no remorse and hadn’t taken responsibility for his actions. She said Holt-Reid even grabbed Burgess by the neck and one point and began strangling her while saying, “‘We are not having this baby, Yolanda,’” Rausch said.

“He terrorized her, he bullied her, he threatened her, and he threatened to kill her unborn baby,” Rausch said.

Holt-Reid was expressionless as he swiveled back and forth in his chair as the prosecutor and his attorney made their statements. In brief comments to the judge, he said he did take responsibility and wanted to continue his education and get back to his children.

Holt-Reid, 28, pleaded guilty in April to attempted murder, weapons and abduction counts after police say he pulled a gun Oct. 6 on Burgess and forced her to drive to the clinic.

Burgess did not attend the hearing but in a statement read by Rausch said she is still struggling with the trauma of what she went through.

“Some have said that by me choosing not to terminate my baby, I was trying to force him to be a father,” Burgess said in the statement. “I don’t understand that. You cannot make a man do anything that he does not want to do.”

Shoemaker also took the unusual step of acknowledging that Holt-Reid also tried to pressure Burgess to abort their first child, a son, although he said that argument didn’t reach the same level of intensity.

Shoemaker said that last fall, his client was experiencing economic hardship from the recession, the fact he already had five children, was a full-time student and was trying to find gainful employment.

“So for one reason or another he didn’t think it was a propitious time to have another child,” Shoemaker said. “He’s coming in his mind from a perspective of reasonableness and rational family planning.”

Shoemaker denied Holt-Reid tried to choke Burgess.

Prosecutors brought their case against Holt-Reid using a 1996 law that says a person can be found guilty of murder for causing the unlawful termination of a pregnancy.

The Ohio fetal homicide law and statutes like it in other states have typically been used to win convictions in car crashes in which a pregnant woman died and in cases involving attacks on expectant mothers. Legal experts have said they were unfamiliar with such a law being cited in a case similar to Holt-Reid’s.

O’Brien said he was comfortable using the fetal homicide statute against Holt-Reid because Holt-Reid’s intention was to end Burgess’ pregnancy.