Sunday, January 21, 2018
News Roundup

Woman sought court's help over man accused of killing unborn baby

TAMPA — Fresh from Tampa General Hospital, three days after Remee Jo Lee lost her baby to an ex-boyfriend's alleged deceit, she sought protection from him in Hillsborough Circuit Court.

In her April 1 petition for an injunction, she listed his weapons: "guns, knives, brass knuckles." And "medicine."

"I am afraid that he took measures to kill/abort/murder my unborn child, potentially killing me by switching my medicine," wrote Lee, 26. "And now that he is facing investigation he will continue to cause me more emotional and physical harm."

Those were the early hours of what became an unusual federal criminal case against John Andrew Welden, the 28-year-old son of a Lutz fertility doctor. Prosecutors say Welden forged his father's signature to obtain the abortion drug Cytotec, relabeled it as an antibiotic and tricked Lee into taking it.

She lost an unborn child of nearly 7 weeks, still considered an embryo at that stage of gestation, typically with the beginnings of a nose, fingers and toes.

Welden is charged in federal court with product tampering and first-degree murder. The second charge, which could carry a life sentence, was applied under the Unborn Victims of Violence Act of 2004, sometimes called "Laci and Conner's Law," after Laci Peterson and her unborn son Conner, who were killed in California.

If someone kills an unborn child while committing a federal crime, federal law considers that murder. But such prosecutions are rare.

"I've never seen a case like this," said Tampa lawyer Todd Foster, a former assistant U.S. attorney and FBI agent.

Welden's case became public Wednesday after his arrest. By Thursday, the Sanchez Valencia law firm, which represents Lee in a civil suit against Welden, logged interview requests from CNN, MSNBC, the Today show, the New York Times and other national media, a spokeswoman said.

Overnight, Lee's short-lived hopes for motherhood were simultaneously fueling the war for fetal rights and a rogue battle of the sexes. Comment boards debated the fairness of charging a presumed father with murder, given that a woman may terminate a pregnancy legally.

Welden's mother, Linda Byars of Memphis, Tenn., declined to comment. So did defense attorney David Weisbrod.

Lee told her story Wednesday to a local television reporter and then talked Thursday to the FBI, which reportedly put the kibosh on further interviews.

Law enforcement has known of Lee's allegations since March 31. She talked to detectives at the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office. The agency's findings, about 225 pages, were turned over to the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Office. They remain secret pending the outcome of the case, but the government showed its hand in court Wednesday at Welden's first appearance.

Welden, who had no previous criminal record, was ordered held without bail at the Pinellas County Jail, which houses federal defendants. An arraignment has not been scheduled, meaning he has not entered a plea.

"They had a very good relationship at the beginning," said attorney Gil Sanchez III, who represents Lee. "She was completely in love with this man. She wanted to marry him."

In her domestic violence petition, Lee noted that Welden had green eyes and brown hair.

She wrote that they saw each other "numerous times a week."

They were in a relationship from July to March, she wrote.

Midway, near dawn on Nov. 18, someone made a 911 call from Welden's home on Floral Drive, according to sheriff's records.

A man told the dispatcher that an ex-girlfriend was banging on his windows and wouldn't leave.

"He's with someone new at this time," the dispatcher wrote.

Was that Lee? It's unclear.

Nearly five months later, she was the one contacting law enforcement, seeking a protective order that a judge granted for eight days.

One of the forms she completed asked her this question:

"Do you have a child in common with the person you are filing against?"

Thousands of men and women in the Tampa Bay answer that question each year.

It wasn't written for young women whose bodies were still letting go of a child.

Lee didn't answer "yes."

She didn't answer "no."

She put an "x" next to "n/a."

News researcher John Martin and staff writers Aimee Alexander, Jimmy Geurts and Will Hobson contributed to this report. Staff writer Patty Ryan can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3382.

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