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New N.C. laws include rule prompted by Zahra Baker case

Nearly three dozen laws took effect in North Carolina on Thursday, including legislation inspired by the death and dismemberment of Zahra Baker.

Among the legislation on the list is a law that would make it a felony to disturb or dismember a corpse.

State Rep. Mark Hilton, a Republican from Conover, told the Observer this summer that he was approached by the Catawba District Attorney's Office to get the legislation introduced as investigators were working on the Zahra Baker case.

The 9-year-old from Hickory was killed and her body scattered in 2010.

Zahra's stepmother, Elisa Baker, was sentenced to 15 to 18 years in prison after pleading guilty to second-degree murder and other charges in connection to the girl's death.

Also going into effect Thursday is Laura's Law, which calls for stiffer penalties for repeat DWI offenders whose cases have other aggravating factors. It also gives judges the ability to require some offenders to wear alcohol-monitoring ankle bracelets for much longer than the current 60-day limit.

The law is named for Laura Fortenberry, a 17-year-old from Gaston County who was killed in a July 2010 crash. Howard Clay Pasour of Bessemer City was sentenced to 21 to 28 years in prison after pleading guilty to second-degree murder, habitual DWI charges and two counts of serious injury by vehicle.

Gun-rights advocates praise another new crime-related law that gives citizens more legal standing to fire their weapons to protect themselves from someone illegally entering their homes, cars or businesses.

A shooter will now be presumed exempt from criminal or civil liability if the person was worried they would be seriously harmed or killed by the intruder. The previous law said a shooter inside a home may have to justify why they fired. Prosecutors could still attempt to persuade a judge the shooting crossed the line.

Another new law creates separate crimes against a mother and her unborn child when a pregnant woman is attacked. The fetal-protection law allows prosecutors to bring charges of murder or manslaughter for causing the death of an unborn child.

Someone also can be charged with assault if the mother gives birth after she's attacked and the child is seriously injured or born prematurely, according to the law. The fetal crime can occur any time after conception.

The measure is also known as Ethen's law in honor of the unborn son of Jennifer Nielsen, who was killed in 2007 as she delivered newspapers in Raleigh. Nielsen's father, Kevin Blaine, has pushed for years for the bill.

Other new laws:

Require that a car driven by a suspect charged with a felony in a police chase be seized by the local sheriff. If convicted, the suspect's vehicle will be sold with proceeds going to local school districts. The "Run and You're Done" law attempts to prevent high-speed chases on busy roads and interstates that could lead to death and injury for innocent motorists.

Require crime investigators to turn over any evidence in all felony cases, whether or not prosecutors have formally asked for it. The law is designed to ensure that defense attorneys get potential evidence from crime labs and other police sooner.

Allow a judge to remove a nonviolent felony from the criminal record of a first-time offender who committed the crime under the age of 18 if the person seeking the expunction has stayed out of trouble, with other requirements and exceptions. Staff writers Cleve R. Wootson Jr., April Bethea and Meghan Cooke contributed.

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