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Prosecutor: If Man Accused of Killing Pregnant Wife as She Begged Doesn’t Warrant Capital Punishment, Then ‘We Don’t Need the Death Penalty in the State of Alabama’

Hunter James Tatum courtesy of the Autauga County Sheriff's Office

Hunter James Tatum

A grand jury in Alabama has returned an indictment against a man accused of murdering his pregnant wife and their unborn son last year as the woman begged for her life. The Autauga County Grand Jury on Thursday indicted 25-year-old Hunter James Tatum on two counts of murder and an additional upgraded count of capital murder in the slaying of 26-year-old Summer Tatum, online records reviewed by Law&Crime show.

Tatum initially only faced two counts of murder, but prosecutors had previously stated they were looking into bringing upgraded charges in the case to include the death penalty. Chief Assistant District Attorney C.J. Robinson confirmed the state’s intention to pursue capital punishment against Tatum, according to a report from the Montgomery Advertiser.

“If the facts surrounding this case do not rise to the level of the death penalty, we don’t need to have the death penalty in the state of Alabama,” Robinson reportedly told the newspaper.

Under Alabama state law, a defendant can be charged with capital murder if they kill two or more people in a single act or “pursuant to one scheme or course of conduct.”

Tatum has been held in the Autauga Metro Jail on $400,000 cash bond since his initial arrest in October. However, in light of the capital murder charge prosecutors filed court documents asking Autauga County District Judge Joy Booth to revoke Tatum’ bond, the Advertiser reported.

Per the Advertiser, prosecutors swiftly pushed Tatum’s case through the Autauga County Grand Jury process after reports from the Alabama Department of Forensics came back earlier than authorities expected.

“No one was more surprised than we were when the reports came back so soon,” Robinson reportedly said. “So we presented as soon as we could.”

Capital murder cases typically take between a year and 18 months before being presented to a grand jury, per the Advertiser.

As previously reported by Law&Crime, investigators during Tatum’s preliminary hearing said they had audio and video records that show Tatum fatally shooting his Summer, who was 6 months pregnant with the couple’s first child, inside of their Prattsville home.

“I’ll stay, I’ll stay. I’ll do anything you want,” Summer can be heard saying on the audio recordings, Prattville Police Department Investigator Wesley Clark reportedly testified. “Don’t hurt me, please; don’t hurt our baby; please don’t hurt our baby.”

Hunter could reportedly be heard yelling, “No. Get away from me,” shortly before two gunshots ring out.

The Advertiser previously reported that investigators obtained the audio and video evidence from the three cameras located outside of the Tatum’s home as well as a camera from their neighbor’s house.

“The video doesn’t show much, but it picks up the audio,” Clark reportedly said in reference to the footage from the neighbor’s camera. “You can hear the victim screaming and then two gunshots.”

He further testified that a camera pointed towards the Tatum’s bedroom appeared to show “Mr. Tatum dragging the victim across the floor after two gunshots.

Prosecutors reportedly told Judge Booth that Tatum committed a “cold-blooded execution of his six months pregnant wife,” adding, “It doesn’t get any more violent that.”

In an earlier bond hearing, prosecutors said they believe that Hunter was standing behind a kneeling Summer Tatum when he shot her execution-style, firing two bullets in the back of her head. Paramedics transported Summer to Baptist South Hospital in Montgomery where she was initially said to be in critical condition and placed on life support. Doctors were able to deliver the child alive. They placed the baby in the facility’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), but tragically, the newborn boy did not survive the day. Summer died soon after the baby was delivered.

Under Alabama Code § 13A-6-1, “an unborn child in utero at any stage of development, regardless of viability” is considered a person when the baby’s life is ended in a criminal homicide.

[image via Autauga County Sheriff’s Office]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.