Wednesday, June 20, 2018
News Roundup

Abortion pill case heats up as doctor's son seeks bail

TAMPA — He said he was sorry. He wanted to die. He called himself a "coward" and a "horrible person," court records state.

"I'm sorry I ruined everything," John Andrew Welden told girlfriend Remee Jo Lee after she accused him of causing her miscarriage by slipping her a drug.

In the federal court system, that's the sort of detail that might not come out until trial. But a bail hearing set for today has turned into a proving ground for the government's case against Welden, 28, among the few people in the nation to be charged under the federal Unborn Victims of Violence Act.

His attorneys — there are now three — filed a motion June 7 asking Magistrate Judge Anthony Porcelli to release Welden from jail pending trial. With help from his friends and family, they portrayed him as "honest," "trustworthy" and "religious."

Prosecutors called him a flight risk, citing the strength of their evidence and the possibility of a life sentence. That left defense attorneys trying to cast the case as weaker than billed.

So the bail motion also attacked the science behind the federal charges, questioning the ability of the drug, Cytotec, to stop an embryo's heart.

A heartbeat was present March 28, the day before Lee took a pill and began experiencing cramping, records state. There was no heartbeat March 31.

The son of a Lutz fertility specialist, Welden is accused of forging his father's name on a prescription pad and relabeling Cytotec as a common antibiotic instead of a drug known to trigger contractions.

Welden's attorneys suggested that Lee, 26, might have suffered a routine loss of a pregnancy of nearly seven weeks.

On Tuesday, the government rebounded with excerpts from phone calls and text messages between Welden and Lee, which laid bare Welden's early pleas for an abortion and his recorded admissions to Lee that he gave her the drug.

Prosecutors suggested a motive: Welden didn't want his other girlfriend, Tara Fillinger, to know Lee was pregnant.

He faces two federal charges: product tampering and causing the death of an unborn child in utero.

On Wednesday, the defense team filed an affidavit from Rebecca Allen, an obstetrician-gynecologist from Providence, R.I., who has studied misoprostol, Cytotec's generic equivalent.

In her opinion, Allen said, one 200-microgram dose of the drug would not have caused injury to Lee or the death of her embryo.

The prosecution filing Tuesday states that Lee took one pill at 4 p.m. March 29. It mentions no others; however, it quotes Welden saying that he told her to start with two. An image of a printed label calls for three pills, three times a day.

The prescription was written for 60 pills on a pad bearing the name of Welden's doctor father. Government exhibits include a sheet of paper upon which someone has signed the elder Welden's name multiple times.

Today, the government intends to release transcripts of Welden's pre-arrest interview with detectives, in which he reportedly admitted that he gave Lee pills to cause a miscarriage.

A portion of the interview is already quoted in court records.

Detective: "Did you give her some medicine?"

Welden: "Uh, yes, sir, the Cyotec." (He omitted one "t.")

Detective: And you told her it was what?

Welden: "Amoxicillin."

Detective: "Okay. But it was actually what?"

Welden: "Cyotec."

Detective: "What do you know that to do?"

Welden: "Uh, causes, uh, uterine contractions and, uh, it's a (inaudible) and it, uh ... cuts off, uh ... certain nutrients to the uterus, causes, uh, uterine contractions, uh, softening in the cervix."

Detective: "What's gonna happen when you give her the medicine?"

Welden: "Usually she'll have a miscarriage."

Staff writer Charles Scudder and news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Staff writer Patty Ryan can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3382.

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