January 28, 2016 — An investigation that resulted in a Texas grand jury indicting two abortion-rights opponents involved with secretly recording videos targeting Planned Parenthood will not be presented to a new grand jury, the case prosecutor said Wednesday, Reuters reports (Herskovitz/Munos, Reuters, 1/28).
Over the summer, the Center for Medical Progress, an antiabortion-rights group, began releasing a series of misleading videos of Planned Parenthood officials discussing fetal tissue donation. Planned Parenthood has stated that the videos were heavily edited and that the filmed officials did not conduct any illegal activities. Further, a report by a research and corporate intelligence firm, Fusion GPS, found that the videos were manipulated.
Following the release of a series of the videos, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) called for the Harris County district attorney to launch a criminal investigation into Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast. The Harris County grand jury tasked with investigating Planned Parenthood cleared the organization of any wrongdoing and instead indicted CMP Director David Daleiden and employee Sandra Merritt.
Both Daleiden and Merritt were indicted on a felony charge of tampering with a government record. In addition, Daleiden was indicted on a misdemeanor charge related to buying human organs.
According to the record-tampering charges, Daleiden and Merritt created false California driver's licenses and used them with intent to defraud when they met with PPGC officials in April 2015. Josh Schaffer, a lawyer representing PPGC, said the misdemeanor charge likely is related to emails Daleiden sent to Planned Parenthood in June 2015, in which he offered to pay $1,600 per fetal tissue sample. Schaffer said Planned Parenthood did not reply to the offer.
The charge of tampering with a government record carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, while the misdemeanor charge carries a maximum punishment of one year in jail.
Warrants were issued for Daleiden and Merritt, each with a $10,000 bond. Their lawyer, Murphy Klasing, said they plan to turn themselves in and post bond (Women's Health Policy Report, 1/27).
On Wednesday, lawyers for Daleiden and Merritt challenged the indictments and said they would ask the district attorney not to move forward with the case. In addition, the lawyers called for a new grand jury (Fernandez, New York Times, 1/27).
In response to the call for a new grand jury, Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson said, "I am not going to do that." She noted, "The inconvenient truth of a criminal investigation is that it doesn't always lead where you want to go" (Reuters, 1/28).