By Jim Walsh
A Voorhees doctor, arrested last week on murder charges in connection with late-term abortions in Maryland, was released on bail Friday.
Steven C. Brigham posted bond of about $300,000 after an arraignment hearing in Cecil County, Md. A judge also unsealed an indictment that detailed Brigham’s alleged crimes — five counts each of first- and second-degree murder and one charge of conspiring to murder.
Authorities have accused Brigham and a second doctor at his Elkton, Md., clinic under a 2005 state law that allows a murder charge for the death of a viable fetus.
“To our knowledge, this is the first time a physician has been charged under this statute,” said Brigham’s lawyer, C. Thomas Brown of Elkton, Md. The attorney asserted Brigham, 55, “has not violated any laws,” but said he needs more information from the state “to determine the specifics of these charges.”
Prosecutors, who have drawn fierce criticism from defense attorneys, refused to comment. A copy of the indictment could not be obtained Friday.
Brigham already faced legal challenges for a controversial two-state abortion procedure at his American Women’s Services clinics. Authorities said he tried to skirt regulatory restrictions by starting late-term abortions at clinics in Voorhees and other sites in New Jersey, then completing the procedures after his patients had traveled to the Elkton site.
A criminal investigation began after an 18-year-old woman suffered a life-threatening injury during a procedure in Elkton in August 2010. A doctor at the clinic — Nicola Riley, 46, of Salt Lake City — drove the teenager to a local hospital, and the patient later underwent emergency surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.
A police search four days later found 35 fetuses in a freezer chest at the clinic, authorities said.
Brigham and Riley were arrested in their home states on Dec. 28.
Riley remains in custody in Utah, where her lawyer said she’s being held in “a Kafka-esque limbo.”
The attorney, Daniel Goldstein, said the charges against Riley remain under seal, leaving her unable to prepare a defense. Riley’s attorneys have asked a judge to find a Maryland prosecutor and Elkton’s police chief in contempt because they discussed the case with reporters while the indictment was under seal.
“She cannot reasonably respond to the bald and false allegations in the media without knowing the details of the acts charged,” her attorneys said in a court brief. They contended the prosecutor’s actions were “a ploy to gain traction on a hot-button political issue in the media and with public opinion.”
New Jersey authorities suspended Brigham's medical license in November 2010 for allegedly providing “grossly negligent care” to five women who wanted late-term abortions. The state Board of Medical Examiners also asserted Brigham had performed about 50 abortions at the Elkton clinic between January and August 2010 “without holding a license to practice in Maryland.”
Earlier this week, another abortion clinic owned by Brigham in Pensacola, Fla., was heavily damaged in an arson fire. A 41-year-old man was arrested and charged in that case.
Reach Jim Walsh at (856) 486-2646 or firstname.lastname@example.org