Unusual murder charge after Fresno police chase leads to unborn baby's death

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Wednesday, September 2, 2020
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A Fresno man faces an unusual criminal charge for an unusual death.

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- A Fresno man faces an unusual criminal charge for an unusual death.

Jimmy Keonhothy complained of back pain as he stood before a judge Tuesday to answer to charges of murder and other crimes.

He'll have to do it again next week.

"Your Honor, it's our request to continue the arraignment one week so that we can do a conflict check," said public defender Jason Sorensen.

The district attorney filed a relatively rare kind of murder case against Keonhothy.

Fresno police say he was high on meth and running from officers last Wednesday when he ran two stop signs and smashed into a Toyota Camry on Olive.

The crash badly injured the other driver, Aura Ayala Escalante, and killed her unborn daughter.

Police say the suspect may be involved in a previous shooting they're investigating, but they don't know of any connection between him and Escalante.

"He doesn't have to know who the victims are in this case," said legal analyst Tony Capozzi. "He just has to understand - he should've understood - that running away from the police at a high rate of speed and going through stop signs is going to put other people in danger."

Capozzi says prosecutors can get a murder conviction if they prove malice, but it doesn't have to be directed at anyone in particular.

In this case, prosecutors could argue Keonhothy showed a "conscious disregard for human life", but it's a fairly unusual argument in a car crash case.

"We have DUI cases -- people driving under the influence who often kill other people -- but they're not charged with murder," Capozzi said. "I think you need a little bit more than just driving under the influence."

That "little but more" could be as simple as a judge's warning from a prior DUI conviction, but while Keonhothy has prior auto theft convictions, he doesn't have any DUIs.

The woman he hit is still in the hospital, but she's now listed in fair condition.

Keonhothy is due back in court on September 10 when he's expected to enter a "not guilty" plea.