CRIME

Dr. Steven Brigham arrested, charged with murder in late-term abortions case

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WASHINGTON (AP) - Two out-of-state doctors who traveled to Maryland to perform late-term abortions have been arrested and charged with multiple counts of murder under the state's viable fetus law, authorities said.

Dr. Steven Brigham, of Voorhees, N.J., was taken into custody Wednesday night and is being held in the Camden County jail, according to police in Elkton, Md. Authorities also arrested Dr. Nicola Riley in Salt Lake City and she is in jail in Utah. Each is awaiting an extradition hearing.

The two doctors were indicted by a grand jury after a 16-month investigation, police said.

The investigation began in August 2010 after a botched procedure at Brigham's Elkton clinic. An 18-year-old woman who was 21 weeks pregnant had her uterus ruptured and her bowel injured, and rather than call 911, Brigham and Riley drove her to a nearby hospital, where both were uncooperative and Brigham refused to give his name, authorities said.

A search of the clinic after the botched abortion revealed a freezer with 35 late-term fetuses inside, including one believed to have been aborted at 36 weeks, authorities said.

Brigham, 55, is charged with five counts of first-degree murder, five counts of second-degree murder and one count of conspiracy. Riley, 46, faces one count each of first- and second-degree murder and one conspiracy count.

The procedure authorities say was botched resulted in the murder case against Riley and three of the 11 murder charges against Brigham, prosecutors told the Cecil Whig in Elkton, Md. The other charges against Brigham relate to four other illegal abortions he performed there, prosecutors added.

Deputy State's Attorney Kerwin A. Miller did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

An attorney for Riley said she had not seen the indictment, but said her client had been inappropriately charged.

"We believe the charges are without legal merit," said Sharon Krevor-Weisbaum. "We believe it's inappropriate for her to be held without bond. She is not a flight risk and she should be released on her own recognizance."

Krevor-Weisbaum said Riley's legal team would comment further after they had seen the indictment.

A message left for an attorney for Brigham wasn't immediately returned. Maryland is one of 38 states with a law that allows murder charges against someone accused of killing a viable fetus.

The 2005 law has so far only been used for cases in which defendants were accused of assaulting or killing pregnant women.

The botched 2010 abortion led regulators to order Brigham to stop practicing medicine in Maryland without a license, and Riley's Maryland license was suspended. Brigham's New Jersey license was also suspended.

According to regulators, Brigham would begin abortions in New Jersey and have his patients drive themselves to Maryland to complete the procedures, taking advantage of Maryland's more permissive laws. Brigham was not authorized to perform abortions in New Jersey after the first trimester, and regulators called his actions manipulative and deceptive.

The allegations are similar to those against Philadelphia doctor Kermit Gosnell, who faces trial in 2013 on charges that he killed seven newborn babies by having their spinal cords severed with scissors. Authorities described Gosnell's clinic as a filthy "house of horrors," and his wife has pleaded guilty to performing an illegal late-term abortion.

Anti-abortion activists hailed the arrests of Brigham and Riley.

"These two individuals are now where they belong and should be in jail for the rest of their lives," the Rev. Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, said in a statement. "Even those who believe abortion should be legal can join with us to stop the out-of-control practices of people like Brigham and Riley."

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