BALTIMORE -- The Cecil County state's attorney's office dismissed all charges Tuesday in the murder prosecutions of Nicola I. Riley and Steven C. Brigham, the first doctors charged under Maryland's fetal homicide law in a case involving a medical procedure.
"This indictment was wrong from the beginning," said Sharon Krevor-Weisbaum, an attorney for Riley. "It should never have been brought. It is factually and legally inaccurate."
The case has drawn national attention and sparked a debate about how the law should be applied. Maryland is one of 38 states with a fetal homicide law.
The law, enacted in 2005, allows Maryland prosecutors to pursue murder charges in the death of a viable fetus. Prosecutors in Maryland have used the law several times, mainly in cases involving shootings or beatings of pregnant women. But the law had never been used to prosecute physicians performing a medical procedure.
Cecil County State's Attorney Edward D.E. Rollins III, who did not return a phone call seeking comment Tuesday, had said the case puts him in "uncharted territory." While his office announced that charges had been dropped against Riley and Brigham, it also said in the statement that the investigation would remain open.
Maryland regulators have criticized Riley and Brigham for starting abortions in one state and finishing them in another.
A motion filed in January by Brigham's attorneys alleged that the fetuses subject to the criminal complaint were all dead before the women reached an Elkton, Md., clinic. Police have said they found nearly three dozen fetuses in the Elkton clinic's freezer, some at 20 to 35 weeks of gestation.
The abortion that triggered the police investigation occurred in August 2010 when an 18-year-old began a procedure in New Jersey in which her uterus was dilated. A Maryland physicians board said the doctors had the woman drive herself to the Elkton clinic, where police said her uterus ruptured and she was rushed to a hospital.
After the teen's uterus ruptured, police said, the doctors drove her, nearly unconscious, to a nearby hospital emergency room. The physicians board said the girl remained in a wheelchair while the doctors argued with staff, and she had to be airlifted to Johns Hopkins Hospital. She survived.
Brigham was charged with 11 counts, including five counts of first-degree murder stemming from abortions in which the prosecutor considered the fetuses viable. Riley was charged with three counts; one was for first-degree murder.
Brigham was never licensed to practice medicine in Maryland. State authorities had suspended Riley's medical license in 2010, after the botched abortion involving the 18-year-old at the Elkton clinic, but before criminal charges were filed. The Maryland Board of Physicians said both violated acceptable medical practices in their treatment of the teen.
Riley continues to be licensed in Utah, where she lives. Her Maryland license could be reinstated after an administrative hearing, her attorney said.
"We have always contended that Dr. Brigham has not violated any Maryland laws as stated in our filings with the court," Brigham's attorneys, C. Thomas Brown and former Maryland public defender Nancy S. Forster, said in a statement Tuesday evening. "The stress and disruption of his life that these charges have caused Dr. Brigham was unnecessary and unwarranted but he is relieved to move forward with his life."
Oral arguments on the defendants' motions to dismiss were scheduled for next week.
A state licensing board would have been a more appropriate place to deal with the allegations against Brigham and Riley, said Vicki Saporta, president of the Washington-based National Abortion Federation.
"Steve Brigham is a substandard provider and should not be practicing medicine or running an abortion clinic anywhere in the United States," she said. "That said, Maryland's fetal homicide law should not be applied in this ... manner.
"Murder was not the appropriate charge in this situation," Saporta said. "He should definitely be put out of business. No question about that."
Defense attorneys had argued that Maryland lacks jurisdiction because the deaths occurred in New Jersey. But Cheryl Sullenger, the senior policy adviser for Operation Rescue, said the Kansas-based anti-abortion group has reviewed many details of the case through open records laws and believes the "bi-state operation" ended with a botched abortion in Elkton.
"It was completed in Maryland," said Sullenger. "We're extremely disappointed. We believe the state has a good case."
Calls to Planned Parenthood's Maryland office and NARAL Pro-choice Maryland were not returned Tuesday.
(Staff writer Jessica Anderson contributed to this article.)
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