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Welden gets nearly 14 years in Tampa abortion pill case

John Andrew Welden, the man accused of giving Remee Jo Lee a drug to cause a miscarriage, is escorted from federal court in Tampa after being sentenced to 13 years and eight months in prison.
Published Jan. 28, 2014

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."

• • •

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 pryan@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3382.

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