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I want to tell you the story of how I've come to see a woman I call Eva. It's more than just Eva's story, which is interesting in itself; it's also my story, puny like a pinky.

The story starts on a frigid February morning in 1992, when my friend Jack, a criminal defense lawyer with a solo-practice in downtown Chicago, called to talk with me about his sixteen-year-old client, Eva, who had hidden her pregnancy from her family and then given birth in a toilet. Her case was going to trial. He had never heard a story like hers. Oddly enough, I had.

Criminal law is not subtle; it's efficient. All the state needed to prove in order for Eva to be guilty of murder was that she had committed a prohibited act, an actus reus, such as drowning her newborn baby, and that she did so purposely, or with mens rea. Legally, it didn't matter why Eva didn't tell anyone she was pregnant. She could be guilty even though she was ashamed she had had sex, believed abortion was murder, and was convinced her family would throw her out if they knew she was pregnant. It didn't matter that her boyfriend of two weeks had left her when she told him she'd missed her period, or that Eva had cried for them to bring her the baby afterwards, when she lay in the emergency room.

The jury convicted Eva, but not of murder, which would have meant decades behind bars. Instead, she got only involuntary manslaughter and probation."A victory for the defense," Jack said, "as these things go." Her story ended without her ever really telling it.

Meanwhile, three years after Eva's trial I had read everything I could find about mothers who kill their children, and still I didn't really understand what had happened to her. I asked Jack if he thought Eva might talk to me. Jack suggested we meet for lunch.

Eva sat without moving, waiting for me to begin questioning her. In the background, there was a low buzz of conversation from customers in line.Cashiers called out order numbers as they slid plates along the stainless steel counter. There was an insistent pulse of tuneless music coming through the overhead speakers. Everything sounded distant and blurry, as if we were under water. I didn't have much of a plan, but we both had come to hear her story, so I began.

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