Stomped Out

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First, the cramping, followed by the feeling that she had to move her bowels.

In the middle of the night, 16-year-old Erica Basoria slipped into the bathroom, sat on the toilet and noticed the blood between her legs. Scared and hurting, she called for her sleeping boyfriend, Gerardo "Jerry" Flores, to fetch her a maxi pad.

The 18-year-old looked all over the room, finding nothing. Finally, Erica said she'd take care of it herself. He went back to bed. Sometime when he was sleeping, she expelled her five-month-old twin fetuses into the bottom of the bowl. They were just shy of ten inches; their skin sloughed, leaving only patches on palms and feet.

Around 3 a.m., she called for Jerry again. Panicked at the blood, he rushed to his mother's bedroom and told her that Erica was hurt. Someone called 911.

The medics arrived, placed Erica on a stretcher, and retrieved the fetuses and partial placenta from the toilet. In all the confusion, everyone left without Jerry. A few hours later, he went to school. He says he wanted to visit Erica, but he had already missed too many classes. He didn't want to be expelled one month before graduation.

At the hospital, a doctor and nurse noticed bruises on Erica's face, arms and stomach. They called police, who sent an officer to question the girl. Officer Scott Hamel asked her what had happened. She said nothing had happened, she just bruises easily.

Hamel asked to see her right arm. Erica pulled her sleeve back, revealing a dark bruise around her bicep and tricep, like someone had grabbed her. Hard. Again Hamel asked, and again Erica said she bruised easily. She wouldn't budge.

Hamel called the station and told his lieutenant Erica's story. A short time later, Detective John Davis met Hamel, and the two went back inside room 211.

Davis laid it out: He didn't believe that Erica had bumped into anything. Someone had hit her. Someone like her boyfriend.

Erica cried at the mention of Jerry's name. Nothing happened, she said.

Twenty minutes after eight, crime scene tech Carol Cloyd photographed the bruises under Erica's right eye and on her right arm, right wrist and abdomen. The doctor's subsequent medical report would indicate bruising on her arms "consistent with injuries from a finger grasp to her arm." Her left breast had an old bruise.

Later that morning, Davis and Lieutenant Mike Shapaka picked up Jerry at Lufkin High School for questioning. In the interview room, Jerry admitted to hitting Erica the night before, but only on the arms. He'd been out with friends, he said, and she tore into him about coming home so late. So he hit her a few times, just to get her to leave him alone.

Davis and Shapaka asked if he'd ever hit Erica before.

Yes, he said, but he always aimed for the arms.

They returned Jerry to school, only to arrest him later that afternoon.

With a videotape and CD recording the interview, Jerry repeated his story. He hit Erica only on the arms. There was nothing new.

The interview over, Shapaka turned off the devices and removed the tape and CDs.

But Jerry told him to wait. He had something more to say.

He told them he did more than hit Erica's arms. He did something unspeakable. He didn't want to do it, but she had asked. She had begged.

After Erica's doctor's visit a week earlier, Jerry said, she had decided she didn't want to be pregnant anymore. She'd heard that if someone stood on a pregnant woman's stomach, you could abort the babies. For days, she'd asked Jerry to do it. He didn't want to, but ultimately he gave in.

Erica lay on the bedroom floor, and Jerry, about five foot eight and 180 pounds, stepped onto her stomach, just above the navel. Then he pressed his K-Swiss sneakers into her flesh. Their statements vary as to how often they repeated this process. Jerry said it was two or three times during the week leading up to the miscarriage; Erica said he stepped on her twice in the two weeks prior to the miscarriage.

Back in the hospital, Erica did two things: She admitted that Jerry had hit her several times, and she confirmed Jerry's story about stepping on her stomach. Under a state law passed in 2003, she had just implicated her boyfriend in two counts of capital murder. Under that same law, she was guilty of nothing, since a mother has the right to end her pregnancy.

When Erica Basoria got pregnant in January 2004, the word around Lufkin High was that her mother hoped God would punish her by giving her twins. Castigada, they said. Cursed.

Erica and Jerry had been seeing each other since November 2002, when she was a freshman and he was a junior. Just five feet tall, Erica had big pretty eyes and a smile to match. She lived with her father at the time, in a well-kept little house a few blocks from the Lufkin Police Station.

Jerry was a carefree, soccer-playing cutup. He was close with his older brother, Jose. Together, they worked on cars, tricking out his Toyota Corolla.

Erica and Jerry became a well-known item in school, making the most of the few minutes between classes, earning barbs from their peers and teachers. Hey, this is not a motel! This is a school.

By the time she was pregnant, Erica had moved into her mother's corrugated-tin-roof shack, off a winding gravel road a few miles north of town. Like many other Hispanics in Lufkin, Ofelia Contreras Basoria worked at poultry producer Pilgrim's Pride, where she was a third-shift janitor.

Erica's mother accepted Jerry at first, but that changed with the pregnancy.

"My mom, my sister and my sister-in-law all said that I should get an abortion," Erica stated in an affidavit last July. "They said that I was too young to have children. Jerry and his family did not want me to get an abortion, and they asked me to move in with him in Jerry's house."

Visited at her mother's home, Erica declined multiple interview requests, but spoke off the record on one occasion. Soft-spoken and polite, she carries herself with confidence. She's careful with her appearance, wearing hoop earrings, makeup and a green form-fitting blazer over white pants. Dirty-blond highlights accent her light brown shoulder-length hair. She refused to reaffirm the veracity of her affidavit, declining to answer whether she really asked Jerry to step on her, or if it was a story made up after the fact.

She preferred to let Jerry talk for both of them. The problem is, Jerry's not very good at talking. Because his family is unable to post the $250,000 bond, he's been in the Angelina County Jail for the last year; his trial date was recently tentatively scheduled for May 31.

Wearing jailhouse orange, sitting behind glass, Jerry says he's gotten used to it. Maybe it's because he's had a year to accept his possible fate, but he seems calm for a teenager facing two counts of life in prison. There are no obvious signs of urgency or turmoil. He also seems unaware of some of the details of his case.

On the same day he stood in court and watched his attorney file a motion claiming he wasn't properly Mirandized, Jerry told the Houston Press he really wasn't sure what the motion was about. When asked if he feels the detectives violated his rights, Jerry shrugs and says that's what his lawyer thinks.

Jerry's grown a few inches and lost a few pounds since his arrest. His black hair is cropped close to his head; a few wisps of hair trying desperately to be a mustache only emphasize his youth.

Sitting behind glass in a jailhouse interview room, Jerry remembers his initial reaction to the news of Erica's pregnancy with twins: "Maybe God blessed me, you know?"

He says he'd make a good dad. His older brother had stirred up trouble in his youth, but recent fatherhood had set him straight. Jerry figured on the same for himself.

But he says Erica's mother was "brainwashing" her. "Putting stuff in her head to scare her." Jerry says she talked about turning 18 and moving out of her mother's shack; maybe she'd move in with Jerry's older sister. Eventually, she took Jerry's family up on their offer. She moved into Jerry's bedroom, and the arguments started shortly thereafter.

"He was spending too much time with his friends, and that upset me," Erica said in her affidavit.

According to Erica's medical records in the court file, she appears to have declined a standard blood test that detects fetal abnormalities. The nurse's notes for that visit, on March 22, 2004, read "opposed to abortion."

But, one month later, something changed.

"When I was four months pregnant, I began to show and at that time I decided that I should have gotten an abortion," Erica stated in her affidavit.

Erica said she stopped taking vitamins and started jogging, against her doctor's advice.

"About two weeks before the miscarriage, I started hitting myself," she said. "I would do this every other day, and I would use both of my fists when I did this. I would hit myself ten or more times."

Jerry says Erica would get angry and jealous whenever other girls approached him. But he never did anything with them. He was with Erica. He wanted to be a dad.

But, overall, he comes across as a stranger to the events of Erica's pregnancy. He says he doesn't know why she chose self-abortion over clinical attention. He describes Erica's unusual request in prosaic terms. It was just something she wanted.

He says he can't remember what he was thinking when he did it. It's the only point in two interviews when he seems moved by the memory. He looks down, closes his eyes and says he didn't know whether stepping on his pregnant girlfriend's belly would harm the babies.

Three of Jerry's longtime friends offer a bit more insight.

According to them, Jerry was growing frustrated with sharing his bedroom with her. They said that while he was looking for jobs in order to support his future children, he really didn't want to be tied down.

"He didn't want to stay with her...he's an outgoing person," says Oscar Segura, 19. "He just didn't want to be stuck to one girl."

Eduardo "Lalo" Gonzales describes Erica as a girl who'd wake up for the sole purpose of arguing. The pregnancy made her crazy, he says.

While Lalo says Erica's mom "really didn't give a shit," he places the blame on Erica's shoulders.

"I think everything's her fault," he says. "She was just trouble, once she got to his house."

Passed in 2003, the Prenatal Protection Act radically amended Texas's criminal code. The bipartisan act changed the legal definition of "individual" from a human being born alive to an unborn child at every stage of gestation. By passing the bill, the legislature made it possible for the state to criminally punish killers of unborn children. Prior to the act, a drunk driver who struck a car carrying a pregnant mother -- injuring her but killing the child -- could be held criminally responsible for only the mother's injury. Under the act, that driver now could be charged with capital murder, since the dead individual was less than six years old. Mothers and licensed medical professionals are exempt from prosecution.

The new act, which took three sessions to pass, was hardly revolutionary; 26 other states had similar laws. Today, 30 states' criminal codes classify unborn children as people. Some define personhood as every stage of gestation; others apply their statutes to the point of "quickening," or movement, usually around month four or five.

"The intent of the bill was to protect unborn babies from a third party who takes the life or injures the child in cases of assault, drunk driving or negligence," says Joe Pojman of the antiabortion group Texas Alliance for Life. The group was involved in drafting and lobbying the act, which was authored by Republican Representative Ray Allen of Grand Prairie and sponsored by Democrat Senator Ken Armbrister of Victoria.

Pojman says the act is not intended to limit abortion rights in any way. "We thought, these are babies who were not intended to be aborted and Texas law ought to protect them...as most of the other states already do."

But Kae McLaughlin of Pro-Choice Texas says TAL is not honest about why it supported the act.

"They can deny it...but the first step in ending abortion is to have the fetus recognized as a person," she says from her Austin office. "They're telling you they're not painting the wall white, but you've got them photographed, you've got them holding the can of paint, you've got them holding the paintbrush, and they're still saying, 'I'm not painting the wall white,' and the news is reporting they're not going to paint the wall white. It makes me nuts."

While TAL asserts that the act ensures abortion rights by exempting doctors, the group blurred that line in a statement issued last August. In the wake of a Texas Supreme Court ruling that parents cannot sue medical providers for negligence in the deaths of unborn children, Pojman declared that the law must be changed.

"Bad doctors need to be held accountable, just like everybody else," Pojman stated in a press release posted on the group's Web site, thus declaring his intention to nullify half of the act he supported in the first place. Doctors' liability is in direct conflict with the Prenatal Protection Act, which states that a mother cannot sue for the death of an unborn child "if the death directly or indirectly is caused by, associated with, arises out of, or relates to a lawful medical or health care practice or procedure of the physician or the health care provider."

Though a minor, Erica could have gotten an abortion even if her mother wouldn't consent. In Texas, minors need to notify parents at least 48 hours before the procedure, though they can request a waiver from the court if they can show that notification would lead to emotional, physical or sexual abuse. All women considering abortion must undergo a 24-hour waiting period, ostensibly to peruse a Texas Department of Health book called A Woman's Right to Know. The book outlines the risks of various abortion procedures and lists financial resources available for mothers, should a woman decide to forgo abortion.

If Erica had looked at that book shortly before she miscarried, she would have seen an illustration of what her twins looked like at 20 weeks. She would have read that, at that period, "some experts have concluded that the unborn child is probably able to feel pain." She would have known that eyebrows and eyelashes had appeared.

Abortions are not performed at the Lufkin Planned Parenthood Clinic. Women seeking abortions are referred to clinics in Houston and Bryan.

Until recently, the nearly 30-year-old clinic had hardly caused a stir. But on the night of August 18, 2004, a children's ministry volunteer named Daniel Bryan fired four shots from a high-powered rifle into the clinic; no one was working at the time. Bryan pleaded guilty to deadly conduct and was sentenced to 138 days in jail and ten years' probation.

"After almost 30 years of quiet, this was a violent blow -- to the health center building, but more importantly to the emotional well-being of our staff and clients," Lufkin Planned Parenthood spokesperson Michelle Green stated in a press release.

But the question remains: With Planned Parenthood clinics in her hometown, Houston and Bryan, why would Erica Basoria make the choice she made?

"Some people -- and probably more likely a teenager than someone a bit older -- sometimes deal with a pregnancy by denial," says Nada Stotland, a professor of psychiatry and OB-GYN at Rush Medical College in Chicago. "It can seem not real until your tummy's sticking out."

Stotland is an expert in the psychological aspects of abortion and women's mental health. She cannot speak specifically to Erica's mind-set but says that, while emotionally upsetting, Erica's behavior is not without precedent.

"You can think in a very simplistic way, that you start beating on your tummy, rather than thinking in a scientific way, about... 'What can I do about this medically?' Women have thrown themselves down the stairs, and so on and so forth."

She also adds: "It's very easy to get angry at people who do things like this...We all love babies, but we have to be careful to remember that sometimes pregnancies are simply intolerable to people, and they will do very damaging things in an attempt to end pregnancies, and what we all want to do is keep those pregnancies from happening in the first place."

Jerry's attorney, Ryan Deaton, called the Prenatal Protection Act unconstitutional in his motion to dismiss the indictment. Deaton, who declined comment for this story, argued that the act violates the First Amendment by granting personhood based on religious dogma.

"There is no secular purpose to allocating legal personhood to an unborn child," Deaton claimed in his motion. "The wording of the statute states that a fertilized egg from the moment of conception is both a 'human being' and 'alive.' However, medical science does not examine this definition of human life."

Deaton also claimed that the act is illegally gender-based.

"A woman can destroy her nonviable fetus without incurring any criminal penalty," Deaton wrote. "On the other hand...when the father of the fetus acts with the consent of the mother to carry out her desire to terminate the pregnancy, the man is subject to severe criminal penalty."

But prosecutors argued that "Any woman who is not the mother of the unborn children can be held responsible for the same conduct as any man."

Art Bauereiss, the assistant district attorney handling the case, declined comment and recently filed a request for a gag order.

Based on their motions, prosecutors do not acknowledge Erica's claims that the miscarriages were consensual. Bauereiss recently filed a motion to keep the jury from hearing that Erica cannot be charged with any crime.

On the night of May 6, 2004, Jerry was hanging out at Lalo's with a few friends. Lalo's house was home base for the tight-knit group.

He had a stereo, video games and an electric guitar that Lalo would tear into for those unmistakable opening notes, Jerry jumping in on cue: Para bailar la bamba!

It was Thursday; Lalo says he and Jerry were planning a long weekend in the Rio Grande Valley, where Lalo's dad lived. (Which conflicts with Jerry's explanation that he couldn't miss a day of school to visit Erica because he might be expelled.) According to Lalo, they planned to leave the next day.

They had a friend who worked at Comfort Suites, so they never had a problem slipping into the swimming pool. They swam until about 10:30, grabbed some food at Burger King and headed back to Lalo's. Vickie Hernandez, 19, says she left around midnight; Jerry stuck around, which was not unusual. Lalo's small bedroom, walls plastered with anime, Spider-Man and Grand Theft Auto posters, was a guy's sanctuary. No pregnant, crazy girlfriends looking for fights.

In the morning, Lalo woke up to find Jerry gone. Not wanting to leave for the Valley without his friend, he looked for him at his house and at school. Unable to find him, Lalo headed south on his own.

Vickie saw Jerry at school the next day.

"I thought you were going to the Valley," she said. He looked nervous, like something was about to happen.

He told her that something bad had happened at his house. He'd tell her later, after class. By that time, police were questioning Jerry's father, mother and sister. Officer Hamel had Jerry's father, Jose Flores, in a separate room. Hamel told Flores that it looked like his son had beaten Erica hard enough to kill the babies.

"Mr. Flores advised that if Erica had bruising all over her that it was possible his son did it," Hamel wrote in his report. "Then he said his son did do it."

Jose Flores said he never saw his son hit Erica, but there were times when he could hear them arguing behind the locked bedroom door. No matter how loud he cranked the TV, their voices were always louder. The elder Flores would knock on the door, asking if everything was okay. They both would say yes.

Jerry's father had corroborated what the police suspected. They dismissed Jerry's family and picked up Jerry at school.

As soon as Vickie heard the news, she visited Jerry in jail.

"Did you hit her?" she recalls asking.

Only on the arms, he said. Never in the stomach.

Vickie says she doesn't know what to think of Jerry and Erica's story.

"He was excited" about the babies, she says. As for Erica, "I never talked to her about her pregnancy, so I wouldn't know." Vickie works with Erica's mother at Pilgrim's Pride. She says they don't talk about what happened.

Lalo got the news later that day, when his little brother called him. Lalo couldn't believe what the police were saying.

"I don't think he's going to wake up in the middle of the night just to beat his girlfriend," Lalo says. What's worse, he says, the paper made him look like Lufkin's own Scott Peterson. The paper never said how much Erica nagged Jerry, how the pregnancy made her crazy.

But now, without a pregnancy complicating things, Erica and Jerry are able to continue their relationship. If he ever gets out, he says, he would want to be with her. It wouldn't be a problem, since his family doesn't blame Erica for anything.

He says Erica used to skip school to visit -- the jail is less than a quarter-mile from school -- but lately it's been harder for her to get away.

"I guess they caught on to her," he says.

Jerry calls home when he can. His dad works nights, so he usually winds up talking to his sister.

Neither wanted to be interviewed for this story.

Standing behind the fence in his front yard, chatting with friends who sat on the steps leading to the front door, Jose Flores, a stocky, smiling man in a ball cap, declined a request for an interview. After speaking in near-perfect English for several minutes, he said his English was too poor for an interview.

And while it's been a full year since his son's arrest, he said he wasn't familiar enough with the details of the case to comment. He said his daughter, Maira, knows more.

Then, the man who gave police the statement they needed to arrest his son apologized for not being much help.

On weekends, Jerry calls his older brother in nearby Hudson. About six months ago, Jerry became an uncle. Between the baby girl and the long hours at the foundry, Jerry's brother hasn't been able to visit often. For Jerry, that's been one of the worst things about jail. How can he be a good uncle in there?

"I can't even hold her," he says. "I can see her through the window."

Although court documents refer to them as Twin A and Twin B, the fetuses ultimately were named. Jerry says it happened shortly after Erica was brought to the hospital that night a year ago. He doesn't know who came up with the names, but he likes them.

They're buried at Carroway-Claybar Funeral Home in Lufkin. Last year, the Basoria and Flores families held a graveside service for the twins. The funeral home provided a temporary marker with the decedents' names: Eric and Gerardo Jr. -- named, of course, after their mom and dad.

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