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Arrests cap 16-month investigation into late-term abortions, clinic

Authorities say two out-of-state doctors who traveled to Maryland to perform late-term abortions have been arrested and charged with multiple counts of murder, an unusual use of a law that allows for murder charges in the death of a viable fetus.

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.

A grand jury indicted the two doctors after a 16-month investigation, police said.

The investigation began in August 2010 after what authorities say was a botched procedure at Brigham's clinic in Elkton, located near the border of Maryland and Delaware. The uterus of an 18-year-old woman who was 21 weeks pregnant ruptured and her bowel was 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, according to documents filed in a previous investigation by medical regulators.

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.

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 charges relate to the botched procedure as well as other abortions performed at the Elkton clinic or fetuses found there, authorities said.

Cecil County State's Attorney Ellis Roberts declined to elaborate on the charges or the circumstances that led to them, saying it would be inappropriate to comment before Brigham and Riley, who were taken into custody on fugitive warrants, had seen the indictments.

Maryland is one of 38 states that allows murder charges to be brought against someone accused of killing a viable fetus. The 2005 law has only been used for cases in which defendants were accused of assaulting or killing pregnant women.

"We are in uncharted territory," Roberts said. "At some point in time," he added, "you will hear our explanation" of the charges.

The state 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.

Brigham's attorney, C. Thomas Brown, said in an emailed statement that he does not believe his client has violated any Maryland laws. He said he has not seen any charging documents or spoken with Brigham since the arrest.

"Dr. Brigham has fully cooperated with this investigation," Brown said. "I had an agreement with the state's attorney's office that if Dr. Brigham was charged, he would voluntarily come to Maryland to surrender. For reasons unknown to me, the state did not honor that agreement."

An attorney for Riley also took issue with her client being behind bars.

"We believe the charges are without legal merit," said attorney 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.