By Matt Pearce
9:00 AM EDT, September 10, 2013
She was excited to be pregnant, excited enough that she brought the new sonogram of her unborn child to show coworkers.
But hours later that day in late March, R.L. -- as she came to be known in the pile of criminal court documents that followed -- felt sick, with cramping and pain.
R.L. went home and bled heavily the next day. She began to suspect the antibiotics her boyfriend had given her weren't really antibiotics at all.
Then, on March 31, doctors in Tampa, Fla., confirmed the worst: Her unborn child was dead.
Her boyfriend, James Andrew Welden, had given her an ulcer pill that, as a side effect, can induce abortion.
Welden, 28, pleaded guilty in federal court in Tampa on Monday to an elaborate plot to end R.L.'s pregnancy.
A judge will decide whether to accept the plea bargain, in which Welden agreed to spend nearly 14 years behind bars on wire fraud and tampering charges in exchange for prosecutors' dropping a murder charge.
Welden's attorney, Todd Foster of Tampa, told The Times in a phone interview that the government would not have been able to prove a murder charge because “it was a fact that was not scientifically capable of being demonstrated” that the pill definitely caused the miscarriage.
Still, Foster said of Welden, “He’s taking full responsibility for his actions.”
“I think the case is tragic from all sides," Foster said. "It’s just a very bad situation from every angle -- it’s terrible for the lady, it’s terrible for the family, it’s bad all around.”
U.S. District Judge Richard A. Lazzara warned that he may impose a harsher punishment in a Dec. 5 sentencing, according to the Tampa Bay Times. (Prosecutors didn't immediately respond to a request for comment after hours Monday.)
The sad details of the case poured out in the plea agreement:
Welden and R.L. had been dating since July 2012, and Welden learned about her pregnancy in mid-March.
"Text messages sent to and from the defendant to R.L.'s cellphone confirm the fact that R.L. wanted to keep the baby, but the defendant did not," the plea agreement states.
With the help of an unidentified co-conspirator at a pharmacy in Lutz, Fla., Welden procured a bottle of misoprostol pills -- an anti-ulcer drug with some worrisome side effects for pregnant women.
"Misoprostol administration to women who are pregnant can cause birth defects, abortion, or premature birth," the drug's warning states. "Uterine rupture has been reported when misoprostol was administered in pregnant women to induce labor or to induce abortion beyond the eighth week."
Welden's father is an OB-GYN. On the day after Welden ordered the pills by forging his father's signature, he accompanied to R.L. to an appointment at his father's practice to confirm the pregnancy.
The fetus, his father would later tell investigators, was healthy: a viable embryo measuring 8.26 millimeters, or about a third of an inch.
But "healthy" was not what Welden told R.L. the next day when the pills came in. He scratched off the markings on the anti-ulcer pills and put an antibiotics label on the bottle.
Welden told his girlfriend that his father had said she had an infection and that he would bring her some antibiotics. She took a pill, and the next day, as she stayed home sick, Welden "came to her house, brought her soup and feigned being supportive as R.L. expressed concern over the health of the baby," the plea states.
It was too late.
"So in the end ... what's going to happen when you give her the medicine?" a detective asked Welden, according to court records.
"Usually she'll have a miscarriage," Welden replied.
That's exactly what happened.
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