Indictment Unsealed for Abortion Doc Charged With Murder

Maryland law allows murder charges in deaths of viable fetuses

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    A Maryland judge unsealed an indictment charging a doctor with murder in connection with five abortions, the Cecil Whig reported.

    The indictment charges Dr. Steven Brigham, 55, of Voorhees, N.J., with five counts each of first- and second-degree murder related to five abortions in 2010 at a clinic in Elkton. All but one of the fetuses were female

    He is also charged with conspiring with Dr. Nicola Irene Riley, 46, of Salt Lake City, Utah, to kill in the case of the male fetus. The indictment provides no narrative and few details beyond the fetuses' genders and dates of the abortions.

    Brigham was arraigned in Cecil County Circuit Court and released on $500,000 bond on Friday, according to attorney C. Thomas Brown. Brown said Friday that his client has not violated any Maryland laws.

    “To our knowledge, this is the first time a physician has been charged under this statute and we are awaiting discovery from the State to determine the specifics of these allegations,” Brown said in a statement.

    Abortion providers had not been charged before under a 2005 Maryland law that allows authorities to bring murder charges in the death of a viable fetus. Thirty-eight states have such laws, which are generally used in cases where defendants are accused of killing or attacking pregnant women, leading to the death of a fetus.

    The investigation began in August 2010 after what authorities called a botched procedure at Brigham's clinic in Elkton. An 18-year-old woman who was 21 weeks pregnant suffered a ruptured uterus and an injured bowel, according to documents filed in a previous investigation by medical regulators. Riley drove the woman to a hospital, where both she and Brigham were uncooperative, documents show. This incident occurred on the same date as the abortion of the male fetus in the indictment.

    New Jersey regulators suspended Brigham's license after finding that he was starting late-term abortions in that state, then sending patients to Maryland to complete the procedures. Maryland officials ordered Brigham to stop practicing without a license in the state.

    A search of the Elkton clinic afterward revealed a freezer containing 35 late-term fetuses, including one believed to have been aborted at 36 weeks, the documents show. Doctors generally consider fetuses to be viable starting around 23 weeks.

    Riley remains jailed in Utah without bond. An extradition hearing is set for Monday and her indictment remains under seal.

    On Thursday, Riley's attorney asked a judge to unseal the indictment and argued that State's Attorney Ellis Rollins and Elkton Police Chief William Ryan should be held in contempt for disclosing details. They argue that the appearance of details of the charges in hundreds of news articles likely taints the jury pool, the evidence against her is weak and Maryland's viable fetus law does not apply to her. 

    Rollins declined to comment Friday.

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