Thursday, April 19, 2018
News Roundup

Tampa man accused in death of unborn child seeks jail exit on bail

TAMPA — Friends and relatives of the Tampa man accused of secretly feeding abortion pills to his pregnant lover are seeking to secure his release from jail on a bond potentially worth more than $1.1 million, according to court documents filed Friday.

John Andrew Welden, the 28-year-old son of a prominent Lutz fertility doctor, is currently jailed in Pinellas County on federal charges of killing a child in utero and tampering with a consumer product. U.S. Magistrate Judge Anthony Porcelli denied him bail last month, asserting the grave nature of the charges made Welden a flight risk.

However, in a motion for bail filed Friday in federal court, Welden's defense attorneys stated his "extraordinary" background as "an upstanding citizen and a role model" lessen the risk that he would flee the area if set free while he awaits trial.

The motion also offered an early glimpse of Welden's defense strategy, as his attorneys pointed to the lack of legal guidelines or precedent for applying the 2004 Unborn Victims of Violence Act. Welden's is the third known case in which authorities have invoked the federal law, which touches on some of the same philosophical and medical controversies that drive disputes over abortion rights.

"This appears to be a case of first impression, presenting novel legal issues," Tampa lawyers Todd Foster and Christina Kimball Walker wrote. "Indeed, defense counsel have located only two other cases in the United States where defendants were charged under the statute … defense counsel anticipates extensive pretrial motions in this case involving complex legal, factual and constitutional issues."

Federal prosecutors say Welden gave Cytotec, a drug that can induce labor and in some cases is used to abort fetuses, to a woman from Lutz he had impregnated, telling her it was an antibiotic medication. The 26-year-old woman, Remee Lee, miscarried in March.

Welden forged the signature of his father, Dr. Stephen Ward Welden, on a prescription for the drug, authorities say. Before Andrew Welden gave her the drug, Lee had undergone an ultrasound confirming her pregnancy at Stephen Welden's office, according to prosecutors.

Yet in an indication of the vexing legal and biomedical issues that seem to loom over the case, Welden's attorneys say Cytotec could not have been used to kill Lee's unborn child in the way described by prosecutors.

Lee discovered the embryo was dead inside her when doctors at Tampa General Hospital told her it did not have a heartbeat, according to the bail motion. Welden's lawyers say Cytotec, a brand name for the drug misoprostol, would not have stopped the embryo's heart, even though it can induce early labor.

Foster declined to comment for this report. A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Florida declined to comment on the motion, but said prosecutors would be filing a response.

Attached to the filing were 16 affidavits from Welden's friends and relatives, many offering their cars or cash as collateral to ensure his court attendance. Welden's attorneys estimate the value of the total collateral pledged at $1,117,000.

Among those who wrote on his behalf is Tara Fillinger, who said she was Welden's girlfriend and dated him for "the majority" of the past seven years.

"Prior to Andrew's incarceration, we were discussing marriage and looking for a home to live in. Andrew and I wanted to build a life together," Fillinger wrote in her affidavit. "I have never known Andrew to break the law. I have always known Andrew to confront his problems and not run away."

Hope Welden, Andrew's younger sister, wrote, "In my family, when someone is having a bad day, we give them what we call a 'car wash' where we have a family group hug while everyone says one positive thing about the person who is having a bad day."

She added, "We all just want Andrew to get a bond so we can have a car wash and comfort our brother."

Times news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Peter Jamison can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4157.

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