By Dave Andrusko
As was implicit in comments made over the weekend, U.S. District Judge Richard A. Lazzara said today that both sides could call expert witnesses next month to test the defense contention that a powerful drug John Andrew Welden tricked his girlfriend into taking did not cause the death of Remee Jo Lee’s 6-7-week-old unborn baby.
The issue is not whether Weldon told Ms. Lee in March of this year that his father, who is a gynecologist, had said that she had an infection and he was bringing her antibiotics. Or that after scratching identifying markings off the Cytotec pills, Welden then put the fraudulent label on the empty pill bottle and put the Cytotec pills inside. (Cytotec, a cancer drug, can be used to induce contractions.) Or that on March 13, 2013, Ms. Lee took one pill, felt severe pain and cramps, and went to Tampa General Hospital “where she was told the unborn child was dead,” according to The Tampa Bay Times.
Welden pleaded guilty to lesser charges of consumer product tampering and conspiracy to commit mail fraud as part of a plea bargain to avoid first-degree murder charges under the NRLC-inspired Unborn Victims of Violence Act (under which he could have been punished by life in prison).The September agreement between prosecutors and defense attorney Todd Foster recommended a prison term of 13 years and eight months for Welden.
But that was then, and this is now.
Over the weekend, Judge Lazzara informed the parties that “The Court has grave concerns with regard to whether there exists a true factual basis to support” the plea bargain parties have already signed. This was an allusion to an affidavit from Dr. Rebecca Allen which argued that “it would be ‘impossible’ for one 200 microgram dose to have caused serious bodily harm and also ‘impossible’ for anyone to definitively say that it induced Lee’s abortion,” according to Patty Ryan, reporting for the Tampa Bay Times.
If the court accepts the defense’s contention, Welden’s punishment could be as little as 41 to 51 months.
“The U.S. Attorney’s office says while they will present witnesses, they believe if the defense calls rebuttal witnesses, that would breach the plea deal,” according to Erik Waxler reporting for the local ABC affiliate. “But Judge Richard Lazarra doesn’t agree and will give both sides the same opportunity.”
However, it may be far more complicated than that. A story appearing earlier today had a very different explanation of what the U.S. Attorney’s office said (or threatened). “At a hearing Thursday in court, prosecutors said if the defense gets to argue the pill drug level did not kill the baby, defense lawyers will have violated John Weldon’s plea agreement,” adding, “Prosecutors could look into reinstating more serious charges and go to trial.”