Illustration by Chantal Jahchan for ProPublica. Source images: Getty Images; “Knight’s Forensic Pathology”; “Forensic Pathology: Principles and Practice”; “The Pathology of Homicide”

Inside the medical examiner’s office, two pathologists removed a baby’s lungs from his chest, clamped them together and placed them in a container of water. Then they watched.

They were examining the suspicious death of the baby whose body was found in a Maryland home; his mother said he was stillborn.

If the lungs floated, the theory behind the test holds, the baby likely was born alive. If they sank, the baby likely was stillborn.

“A very simple premise,” the assistant medical examiner later testified.

The lungs floated — and the mother was charged with murder.

In investigations across the country, the lung float test has emerged as a barometer of sorts to help determine if a mother suffered the devastating loss of a stillbirth or if she murdered her baby who was born alive. The test has been used in at least 11 cases where women were charged criminally since 2013 and has helped put nine of them behind bars, a ProPublica review of court records and news reports found. Some […]

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