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Utah Doctor To Face Murder Charge In Maryland

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A Utah doctor will be taken back to Maryland to face felony murder charges in connection with a botched late-term abortion in 2010.

Dr. Nicola Irene Riley waived extradition Monday after a judge denied a request for bail during a hearing in Salt Lake City.

The physician has been in jail on a fugitive from justice warrant since her arrest on Dec. 28.

A Maryland grand jury indicted Riley, 46, on one count each of first-degree and second-degree felony murder and one count of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder after what prosecutors say was a 16-month investigation.

Also charged is Dr. Steven Brigham, of Voorhees, N.J. Brigham, 55, was indicted on five counts of first-degree murder, five counts of second-degree murder and one count of conspiracy. He was released from jail Friday on a $500,000 bond in Maryland.

Brigham has not yet entered a plea to the charges. In a statement issued Friday, a defense attorney maintained Brigham’s innocence.

“To our knowledge, this is the first time a physician has been charged under this statute and we are awaiting discovery from the state to determine the specifics of these allegations,” attorney C. Thomas Brown said in the statement.

An investigation of the doctors began in August 2010, after what authorities said was a botched procedure at Brigham’s clinic in Elkton, located near the border of Maryland and Delaware.

Documents filed in an investigation by medical regulators found an 18-year-old woman who was 21 weeks pregnant suffered a ruptured uterus and an injured bowel. Rather than call 911, Riley drove her to a nearby hospital, where both she and Brigham were uncooperative and Brigham refused to give his name, documents show.

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

Riley told Maryland medical regulators that she began working at Brigham’s Elkton clinic because she was seeking full custody of her children and was trying to establish a work history so that she could move out of state, according to an interview transcript released in 2010 by Maryland officials.

Riley’s contract with Brigham’s company, American Women’s Services, called for her to fly from Utah to Maryland every two weeks to perform abortions at the Elkton clinic and clinics in Baltimore and Frederick, she told regulators. She first performed abortions at the Elkton clinic on July 30, 2010.

The botched abortion that caught the attention of authorities was performed on Aug. 13, 2010 — her second day of work there, according to the transcript.

Maryland is one of 38 states that allows murder charges to be brought against someone accused of killing a viable fetus. The 2005 law allows for murder or manslaughter charges to be brought against a person who intends to kill or seriously injure a fetus or who wantonly disregards the safety of a fetus.

It does not apply to doctors administering lawful medical care and does not impinge on a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy.

On Monday, after authorities released a copy of Riley’s indictment, her three Maryland attorneys said the allegations levied by prosecutors are not offenses under state law, “Neither the woman who carried this fetus and sought this abortion nor the licensed physician who assisted her in terminating this pregnancy was engaged in in an act that may be charged as murder,” Riley’s attorneys said in a statement.

Also Monday, Riley’s Utah attorney Edwin Wall said the doctor was not aware of any criminal investigation prior to her arrest.

Wall asked a judge to set bail at $30,000 cash and said Riley, who has practiced medicine in Utah since 1997 and has family in the state, is not a flight risk. Riley had not fled Maryland to avoid criminal prosecution and has traveled there several times since the tart of the investigation by medical regulators to attend hearings related to the case.

Judge Ann Boyden denied the bail request.

It was not clear Monday how quickly Riley might be transported to Maryland, and Cecil County State’s Attorney Ellis Rollins was away from the office and unavailable for comment.

Riley’s medical license was suspended by the Maryland Board of Physicians in September.

In Utah, Riley has been allowed to continue to practice, but signed an agreement with the state Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing not to perform any abortions while she remained under investigation by Maryland authorities.

DOPL officials declined comment on Monday beyond stating that they continue to monitor’s Maryland’s process and will re-evaluate their agreement with Riley if necessary.

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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