Zahra's Law, Laura's Law and more to take effect Thursday - WECT, weather & sports Wilmington, NC

Zahra's Law, Laura's Law and more to take effect Thursday

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Several new laws go into effect later this week based on several cases that have made big headlines in our area.

One of them is a victory for a Gaston County family who fought for Laura's law. It creates tougher penalties for repeat drunk drivers.

North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue signed "Laura's Law" earlier this year, named after 17-year-old Laura Fortenberry of Gaston County. Howard Pasour, who was sentenced for second-degree murder in her 2010 death, had multiple previous driving-while-impaired offenses.

Pasour had three prior DWI convictions. Police say he was once again drunk when he hit Fortenbury. He was sentenced for her death and could spend the next 28 years behind bars.

Under the bill, anyone convicted of impaired driving in North Carolina under certain aggravating factors would face more time behind bars and higher fines.

The bill would require an impaired driving offender to receive a one- to three-year prison sentence if there are three grossly aggravating factors - like the person is a repeat offender or caused serious injury.

The toughest current punishment requires at least 30 days in jail.

Earlier this year, Republican state representative Tim Moore of Cleveland County unveiled the law in Raleigh aimed at cracking down on repeat DWI offenders.

Efforts for the law began last summer when Laura's mom, Michelle Armstrong, spoke with Anchor Molly Grantham live on the radio just 18 hours after she buried her daughter.

Moore gives a lot of the credit for the creation of the bill to Laura's mother.

"It was Michelle Armstrong taking the time to get out and take this tragedy with her daughter and try to turn it into something positive, and we've now seen it pass the House unanimously," Moore said.

Former Representative Wil Neumann was listening to WBT Radio last summer and called in during the radio show. He told both women he wanted to do something. He got with Moore and together they co-authored the bill.

"Zahra's Law"

Representative Moore was along a co-sponsor for what has become known as "Zahra's Law" or House Bill 227.

The death of Zahra Baker has helped to re-write G.S. 14-401.22 to make it a felony to disturb or dismember human remains.

According to the law, "any person who, with the intent to conceal the death of a person, fails to notify a law enforcement authority of the death or secretly buries or otherwise secretly disposes of a dead human body is guilty of a Class I felony."

The law also includes punishment for anyone who "attempts to conceal evidence of the death of another by knowingly and willfully dismembering or destroying human remains, by any means, including removing body parts or otherwise obliterating any portion thereof, shall be guilty of a Class H felony."

Parts of 10-year-old Zahra Baker's body were found in multiple sites around Catawba and Caldwell counties months after her disappearance was reported in October 2010. Zahra's arm bone, prosthetic leg, torso and pelvic area were found.

Police said they also found a saw, which they believe was used to cut up the girl's body. A vertebrae and other bones of Zahra were also found with saw cut marks on them, an investigator said earlier this year.

But Zahra's head and many other body parts were never found.

Elisa Baker pleaded guilty in the death of her 10-year-old stepdaughter in September 2011. Baker pleaded guilty to various charges including second-degree murder, obstruction of justice, and bigamy.

The potential maximum total sentence for all charges would typically be 60 years in prison. But, under the plea deal in presented in court, Baker would be sentenced to only a maximum of 18 years in prison.

This act becomes effective December 1, 2011, and applies to offenses committed on or after that date.

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