Wednesday, February 21, 2018
News Roundup

Judge: Abortion pill defendant can be released if under guard

TAMPA — John Andrew Welden may be released from jail before his federal trial, but only if he pays for a private security detail to keep him at home, a judge ordered Monday.

Welden, 28, is considered a flight risk because he faces a mandatory life sentence if convicted of intentionally causing the death of former girlfriend Remee Jo Lee's unborn child.

"Any combination of conditions imposed by the court must include the condition that the defendant be placed in the custody of a trained security detail," Magistrate Judge Anthony Porcelli wrote.

In a seven-page order, the judge used the phrase "security detail" five times, and he ordered parties to appear before him July 1 to discuss the feasibility of such a plan. Welden remains in the Pinellas County jail, where he was booked May 15.

Porcelli would also require home confinement with GPS tracking and a bond of $250,000 secured by property.

Private security can cost $50 to $70 per hour per officer, or at least $36,000 per month, said lawyer Peter A. Sartes of the Law Offices of Tragos & Sartes.

"It can be extremely expensive. If you're not wealthy, it's tantamount to no bail," he said.

Some judges want two officers on duty at a time. Sartes recalls that was the case when his firm represented Charles Jackson Friedlander, a Fort Myers mental health counselor convicted at 78 of trying to solicit children for sex.

Guarded house arrest has previously sprung reggae star Buju Banton (now in prison on a cocaine conviction), financier Bernie Madoff (also in prison, fraud) and International Monetary Fund managing director Dominique Strauss-Kahn (U.S. sex charge dropped).

No public accounting has been offered of Welden's assets. He drives a 2007 Pontiac and has $80 in his jail canteen account, but he is represented by three privately paid attorneys.

His father is an obstetrician-gynecologist with a fertility practice in Lutz, and the family operates weight-loss clinics.

Defense attorney Todd Foster said at a hearing last week that the Weldens would look into private security if the judge desired.

At that hearing, Porcelli heard other proposals, too.

The Weldens were willing to secure bond with properties valued at $500,000, Foster said. More than 20 supporters pledged to co-sign a $200,000 personal surety bond. Foster suggested putting Welden in the custody of his father and stepmother.

The judge called those measures "significant and sizable," but not enough, noting that Welden would suffer no personal financial hardship if he fled.

It would be difficult for parents to act as custodians, Porcelli said, "given their understandable and unconditional love for their son." He brought up a recorded jail conversation in which Welden's stepmother suggested a way to shield his Pontiac from victim Lee's pending civil suit.

Porcelli called the risk of flight "overwhelming," even when considering a defense expert's opinion that the single pill Lee took could not have stopped the heart of her nearly 7-week-old embryo. Welden is accused of giving her the abortion drug Cytotec, disguised as an antibiotic, earlier this year.

If the government can't prove the cause of death, Welden's prior statements still leave him vulnerable to "significant penalties" for attempting to kill the unborn child, Porcelli wrote.

Welden, the judge wrote, has admitted to "inexplicable, deplorable and deceitful acts."

Along with being a flight risk, he may be a possible threat to Lee, Porcelli wrote.

Private security, he said, would answer both concerns.

News researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Patty Ryan can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3382.

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