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Utah doctor waives extradition in Maryland abortion-related murder case

Published: Monday, Jan. 9 2012 1:05 p.m. MST

Dr. Nicola Irene Riley and her attorney Edwin Wall appear in Judge Ann Boyden's court where bail was denied for the doctor charged with murder, Monday, Jan. 9, 2012.

Scott Sommerdorf,

SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah doctor facing murder charges in Maryland stemming from late-term abortions she is accused of helping perform waived extradition from Utah Monday.

Attorneys for Nicola Irene Riley, 46, initially asked 3rd District Judge Ann Boyden to consider reducing the woman's bail to $30,000 and assured the judge that Riley was not a flight risk.

"(Riley has) been in Utah since 1997," Edwin Wall said. "She has a home here. She resides in that home with her mother. … She has very strong ties to the state of Utah."

He added that she has two children and a medical practice here as well. Prosecutor Michael Postma, though, said $30,000 was "inadequate" given the murder charges Riley is facing in Maryland and argued that this case should be viewed no differently than others like it.

"It is incumbent of my office to ensure that this defendant appears (in Maryland)," he said.

Boyden sided with prosecutors, stating that there are a number of things that she must consider in addition to whether Riley is a flight risk.

"The very nature of the underlying charges indicates she is a danger to the community," Boyden said, adding that Riley already fled Maryland leading to the fugitive of justice charge that landed her in Boyden's court.

A grand jury in Cecil County, Md., indicted Riley and Dr. Steven Brigham of Voorhees, N.J., for multiple counts of murder. Both doctors are accused of traveling to Maryland to perform late-term abortions in August 2010. They were arrested in their respective home states after the indictment was issued.

Authorities say a botched procedure at Brigham's clinic in Elkton, located near the border of Maryland and Delaware, was the starting point for their investigation. An 18-year-old woman who was 21 weeks pregnant had her uterus ruptured and her bowel 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 is facing 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.

Wall was adamant that Riley was not aware of the charges when she left Maryland and wasn't made aware until she was arrested in Utah. He said she knew about the investigation in Maryland, but thought it was a medical board investigation and not a criminal one.

"She is not a fugitive," he said. "She did not flee the charges, she was not aware they filed charges."

In light of Boyden's decision to not reduce Riley's bail as requested, Riley waived her right to a formal extradition hearing and agreed to cooperate with officials from Maryland. Wall said after the hearing that he expected authorities from Maryland to come to Utah to retrieve Riley "as soon as they possibly can."

Outside the courtroom, Wall said his client would ultimately be vindicated in the Maryland case. He defended her history in the medical field and said she is concerned with the implications of the charges as it relates to women's rights to have abortions.

"This case relates to Roe v. Wade because if doctors can be prosecuted for criminal offenses in connection with providing critical medical care to women who are in need of it, then there's going to be a chilling effect," he said. "Women are going to be afraid of going to doctors when they need medical assistance and that raises serious concerns in Dr. Riley's mind."

He said the case is the first of its kind in Maryland as the charges were brought under a 2005 law that, so far, has only been used for cases in which defendants were accused of assaulting or killing pregnant women.

"This was really designed to address a situation where a woman is assaulted and attacked and they lose their fetus," Wall said. "It was not designed to go against medical doctors."

E-mail: emorgan@desnews.com Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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