Family of slain teacher fights to change Md. law on fetal homicide

ANNAPOLIS — Laura Wallen was so excited about the expected birth of her baby that she had picked out names: Lucy if it turned out to be a girl, Reid for a boy.

But Wallen, a Howard County teacher, was brutally murdered just 14 weeks into her pregnancy, and her on-again, off-again boyfriend, Tyler Tessier, was charged in the case.

Laura’s parents, Mark and Gwen Wallen, said they were stunned that there would be no charge related to their unborn grandchild. Maryland law requires that a fetus be viable — at about 23 weeks — in order for a homicide charge to be made.

“I was actually shocked when I found out that it wasn’t going to count — that justice was not going to be done for my grandson,” Mark Wallen explained. “The law now said the life of my grandson doesn’t even exist.”

The Wallens promised themselves they would change that. On Tuesday, they were in Annapolis, lending their support — and their daughter and unborn grandchild’s name — to a bill that would do away with the viability requirement in murder or manslaughter cases: “Laura and Reid’s Law.”

At a news conference in Annapolis, Gwen Wallen said that if the bill passed, “It would mean we honored Laura, and it would mean that we used the gifts that we had to make something out of the very, very tragic deaths … of two people.”

Mark Wallen, anticipating concerns from pro-abortion rights supporters, said the bill would do nothing to change existing laws on a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy. “We specifically did not want to touch the abortion issue at all, ” he said, adding, “I’m pro-choice.”

What the Wallens do want, they said, is for the law to recognize that when a pregnant woman is killed, it’s not just one loss.

It’s not about his daughter, Wallen said, it’s about every pregnant woman.

Maryland State Sen. Justin Ready and Del. Trent Kittleman are sponsoring the legislation.

It’s important, Ready said, because the second-leading cause of death for pregnant women is homicide.

Fifty-six percent of pregnancy-related homicides are committed by intimate partners, husbands, ex-husbands or boyfriends, Ready said.

“Nearly half of those are during pregnancy, and most of those are within the first three months,” he said.

The man accused of Wallen’s murder, Tyler Tessier, had been dating Laura over a period of 10 years. Laura’s mother is convinced that Laura’s pregnancy was the catalyst for her murder back in September.

“I absolutely believe that the baby became an inconvenience,” she said

Tessier’s trial is set for April 9.

Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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