TAMPA — She once thought John Andrew Welden was the most compassionate man she had ever met. Now she calls him a thief. She wishes she hadn't told him she was pregnant. She would be a mother now, home with a baby.
Instead, Remee Jo Lee, 27, was in federal court Monday, telling a judge how to punish her ex-lover for tricking her into taking an abortion drug that killed a nearly seven-week embryo she had already named Memphis.
"Everybody wants to tell you what to do," she told U.S. District Judge Richard A. Lazzara. "The only thing I want you to do is show Andrew the same amount of mercy he showed me during my pregnancy."
Welden, 29, will get his next crack at fatherhood in his 40s.
Lazzara sentenced him to 13 years and eight months — likely to be served in a minimum-security work camp — on charges of product tampering and conspiracy to commit mail fraud.
He was initially charged with first-degree murder under the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, punishable by life in prison, but he pleaded guilty to lesser charges in September.
"I'm plagued with remorse and regret for the horrible actions I've committed which led to this day," the fertility doctor's son said before the judge imposed sentence. "And what I've done will stay with me every day for the rest of my life no matter what happens today or the day after."
Sitting on benches in the gallery, divided by an aisle and a lost pregnancy, were the people who would have become Memphis' grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts and uncles, under different circumstances.
For two hours, Judge Lazzara listened to them speak.
Lee's grandfather, Bobby Lee, called for the maximum, which would have been 15 years.
The defendant's grandmother, 81-year-old Marjorie Blaylock, expressed worry that she would never again be able to hold him.
Dr. Stephen Welden, whose name was forged to obtain a drug that causes miscarriages, wondered aloud if there was something he should have done differently with his son. "If there is such a thing and I didn't do it," he said, voice dissolving into a sob, "then I owe everybody an apology."
Other Welden supporters wrote letters. The judge heard from about 50 of them.
"I don't think Mr. Welden is an evil person," Lazzara concluded, "but he committed an evil act and for that he's going to have to pay the consequences."
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Lee has told her story publicly, but, until Monday, Welden's public comments had been limited to sparse admissions in the offering of a guilty plea in September.
His voice sounded beaten and sorrowful.
Hers sounded hurt and angry.
In her statement, she mentioned the name Memphis at least eight times.
Welden didn't say it once. He recited a Bible verse, Jeremiah 29:11, about hope in the future. He used words like "humble" and "remorseful" and called his actions "stupid" and "horrible."
"I wish with all my heart that I could take it back and I could do the impossible and turn back time and undo everything," he said. "But I unfortunately can't."
He said he still hopes to make the world a better place, even if his dream is gone. He was a premed student before all this.
He didn't try to explain why he did what he did. Some of the reasons had come out in interviews with sheriff's investigators. He had another girlfriend. He was overwhelmed by the prospect of having a child with a woman he didn't intend to marry.
Lee began her remarks by describing how little she will ever know about the life she carried.
"Memphis was six weeks and five days old," she began.
She knew the embryo's length and heart rate. That was all.
"I don't get to know the exact date when he would be born and if he was really destined to be a boy. I don't get to know any of those fun things."
She said she sits in her room and stares at the ceiling, wishing things had been different.
When the holidays came around, she still felt the loss of the spring miscarriage. At Christmas, she didn't want presents. She wanted diapers and baby clothes, not a new purse.
Welden may have a dismal future, she said, but Memphis has no future.
"He hurt me really badly," she testified. "More so than anyone else in this entire world. He took away the most precious thing I could have ever had and that was my baby, our baby."
She felt death inside of her, she said.
At one point, her remarks turned into a sort of eulogy for the baby she didn't get to have.
Memphis, she said, filled her every breath with meaning.
Memphis taught her the importance of family.
Memphis taught her how strong she was.
Memphis taught her about self-respect.
"I never want to forget Memphis. I loved being pregnant. I wish that Memphis were here. I need him so much. But he is here. He's always in my heart. He's with my family and I think he's here, he's what's brought us all together."
Welden is under orders to report to U.S. marshals on Wednesday.
Patty Ryan can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3382.
Remee Jo Lee statement
This is the statement Remee Jo Lee delivered in court at Monday's sentencing of John Andrew Welden, who admitted to giving her a drug to cause her miscarriage.
Memphis was six weeks and five days old. He had a heartbeat measuring 133.93. He was 8.66 millimeters long and that's all I have to, that's all I can know about my child.
I don't get to know exact date when he would be born and if he was really destined to be a boy. I don't get to know any of those fun things. This is all I have left is a photo of him. This is it. This is all. And it's just not enough for me.
I know he wouldn't want me to be so upset because he's with his father, his heavenly father. I'm selfish and I wish he was here with me. I miss him every day. It seems like there is a hole in my heart. All the photos we have, he's not there and he should have been there — Thanksgiving and Christmas.
I didn't want any of the presents I received. I didn't want a new purse. I wanted diapers, I wanted baby clothes, I wanted a changing table. I wanted to go shopping with my mom like I planned. I wanted to announce my pregnancy on Easter. Instead I was in the hospital. And [inaudible] worst days of my life that I was going to have to have my baby surgically removed out of me.
This time last year on January 25, 2013, Andrew wrote me a letter and it said, "To Remee. I'll always love your spirit and who you are just naturally. You never need anything to make you more awesome than you already are. You have changed my life and I only see the best in you and I want you to be the best you can be. I will be here for you on any path you take. Love Muffin."
He hurt me really badly. More so than anyone else in this entire world. He took away the most precious thing I could have ever had and that was my baby, our baby.
I saw our child moving on the sonogram and the next day he came over and tried to trick me. The baby died and he pretended to be concerned about the health of the baby. And that was all a lie. Everything that he ever said was a lie.
When he told me he loved me, that was a lie. When he told me that he was concerned about me and didn't want anything to happen to me, that was a lie. He had already done it. He knew that he couldn't even come in to help me.
He did all of this to save his own life so his other girlfriend wouldn't find out about me, so his family, the rest of his family wouldn't know that I existed. He just wanted to sweep me under the rug like I never happened.
They talk about my child as "the case" or "the mistake" and he was never any of those things to me. This isn't just a case to me. This is the death of my child.
I feel like he was arrested on the right charges. This was a first-degree murder plan. He went through with it and just it hurts so bad to hear all the things that he did.
These things haunt me every day, every time I see a pharmacy, every time I see a guy in scrubs, every time I see a pregnant woman, all I can think about is everything that I've lost, every day.
I've been in home arrest practically. I can't live my life normally. What fun is there? My old life doesn't work. I can't just sink back into my old life like nothing ever happened. That's not the case. I sit in my room and stare at the ceiling every day, wishing that I could have done everything different.
I wished I would have never told him, wished I'd moved across the country so he couldn't find us and hurt us.
I bled for a month, more than a month. Every day that was a reminder, every time I see blood I think about this.
Andrew is a thief that wasn't sorry that he stole. He's terribly, terribly sorry he's going to jail. I've never seen a shred of remorse on his face. I've only seen him laughing like a dunce with his defense team like he would just get out of this, just go away.
How he carried his life on after he did this to me. He just went on normal like nothing ever happened, kept on with his daily business while I thought I was dying. I didn't know what to do.
Maybe it's because I really felt — it's hard for a man I guess to understand — but I felt death inside of me that day.
Once upon a time I believed he was the most kind and thoughtful, considerate and compassionate man I'd ever met. I would be speaking his praises just as the others. [Inaudible] my own personal inferno when he decided to murder our child.
I never get to hold my son. He'll still have a future no matter how dismal it is, but Memphis will never have a future. Memphis is sealed in formaldehyde. No mother should hear that her child is sealed in formaldehyde.
I'm thankful to Andrew because he gave me the most wonderful gift ever. I wish he didn't take him away.
He filled every breath with meaning. It's because of my life experience and the path that I had that I've learned really important lessons about that truly matters and it's the priceless things like time and family and being someone that you can look at in the mirror and respect.
And it's through those things, I'm so thankful for the time that I got to spend with Memphis.
There is some time I didn't even know he was there. Memphis has helped me discover the woman that I really am and that is a strong woman that stands up for what she believes in. [Inaudible] has already made history and I hope he can change it.
I hope that nobody has to feel this pain unnecessarily because this was unnecessary. None of us should be here today. The only reason why we are here today is because Memphis is dead. That's it.
Instead of going to doctor's offices and shopping with my mom, I've been in the attorneys' office, I've been in court, and that's not what I wanted. I would rather be home with my baby.
He said he didn't know how much Memphis meant to me and that was a lie as well. Maybe he knows now.
I always wonder what could have been. I always wonder what he would have looked like. This isn't going to go away. Whenever Thanksgiving comes around and Easter time comes around, I'm always going to think about it. And I would not want to.
I never want to forget Memphis. I loved being pregnant. I wish that Memphis were here. I need him so much. But he is here. He's always in my heart. He's with my family and I think he's here, he's what's brought us all together.
Everybody wants to tell you what to do. The only thing I want you to do is show Andrew the same amount of mercy he showed me during my pregnancy. Take that into consideration. Thank you.
John Andrew Welden statement
This is the statement John Andrew Welden made at his sentencing hearing Monday, shortly before U.S. District Judge Richard A. Lazzara imposed a sentence of 13 years and eight months.
Your Honor, I would like to just thank you for the opportunity to address you and the entire court.
I know since all of this has happened that I've never explicitly opened my mouth in public or anything to talk about this case or anything, but I would like to address Remee and Mr. Lee and Ms. Lee and the rest of her family directly and address to the court and everyone that is here for me, that I have nothing but the most humble and remorseful heart and with nothing more than the most sincere contrition for the results of my horrible actions.
These actions were completely separate from my normal character, as many have stated. And I know I've not only caused my family but I've caused Remee, her family, her mom, her dad, her grandfather, her cousins, as they have stated, I've caused everyone a huge amount of emotional pain and for that I'll forever regret that for every day I live.
And I'm sorry. I'm plagued with remorse and regret for the horrible actions I've committed which led to this day. And what I've done will stay with me every day for the rest of my life no matter what happens today or the day after.
I persistently pray with a humble heart for forgiveness and mercy from God and I intend to address this court in the same way I address the heavenly judge with a humble and contrite heart because I know that's the only time he listens.
Today I'm here to take full responsibility for my actions. I know what I did is inexcusable and deserves punishment and I know that's the reason for today's hearing is for punishment.
I wish with all my heart that I could take it back and I could do the impossible and turn back time and undo everything. But I unfortunately can't. I have to live with what I've done and all the pain I've caused to everyone forever, every day.
And I'm ashamed for placing such a heavy burden of pain and heartache on all my siblings, on all my friends, and on Ms. Lee as well.
I know I put a lot of things in jeopardy, not only for myself but for my parents as well. And not just financial, emotional. I know that they have the mortifying thought of never seeing their child unless he's behind bars or in a federal facility somewhere.
And I'm sorry because it's — it's because of my selfish actions that we're here and that it's all happening.
And I know I've thought about this day so many times since this has all happened on what I would say and it's kind of numbing when you get up here.
I don't know how to express it with enough — to the extent where everyone can understand how I feel and the remorse I feel for causing anyone else any pain.
But I do want to thank a few people —- not a few people, actually, already way more than I even know. Although what I did is unforgivable, these people I found, my life today, all of these people, they have been — they found it in their merciful and empathetic hearts to forgive me and they have stood by me even from the start.
They have encouraged me with letters and phone calls, even visits from now and then. They have loved me unconditionally, which is what I want from God because I know that the love he provides is unconditional.
And you guys have never passed judgment on me. Even when I know I've been guilty of a lot of things and I'm always saddened by all the pain I've caused.
And I just thank you all for loving me no matter what I've done. And that you have loved me even when I felt I didn't deserve to be loved.
I'm overwhelmed with a crushing fear today. I know that's probably not fair, but the crushing fear is that the person that I am and everything I've ever tried to be will vanish forever. I'm scared of what awaits me in prison obviously.
While I know all the dreams of what I wanted to become and what I wanted to do with my life of going to night school for years and everything I did to work towards that are gone. And I know it's because of my stupid actions.
But I do hold on to faith and hope and making this world a better place through some other venue in the future. Overall I'm faithful and hopeful that I'll still get the opportunity one day to prosper and have a future, that I'll leave this world a better place than when I found it.
I think my dad and I always remarked on a certain verse from Jeremiah 29:11 and it's to the people of Israel, that when they had nothing to lean on that it's, "I know the plans I have for you and they're plans to prosper you and give you hope, not plans to defeat you but to give you a future." And that's what I plan for. That the almighty, the heavenly judge above feels the same to open hearts to be merciful.
And I ask Your Honor, I just want to thank you for allowing me to speak and allowing me to address the court today and I eternally appreciate any mercy I could ever receive from you and I just thank you for your time.