HOUSTON (AP) — A Texas judge on Tuesday dismissed the last remaining charge against two California anti-abortion activists who made undercover videos of themselves trying to buy fetal tissue from Planned Parenthood.
District Judge Brock Thomas dismissed the tampering with government records charge against 27-year-old David Daleiden and 63-year-old Sandra Merritt upon the request of the Harris County prosecutor's office. The request came before a hearing on the legitimacy of the indictment.
"The grand jury took the investigation where the facts led it, however Texas law limits what can be investigated after a grand jury extension order is issued," District Attorney Devon Anderson said in a statement. "In light of this and after careful research and review, this office dismissed the indictments."
Defense attorneys said the pair never should have been indicted. If they had been convicted of the felony charge, each could have been sentenced to up to 20 years in prison.
"I'm glad the First Amendment rights of all citizen journalists have been vindicated today," Daleiden said after the hearing. "And I would just note that Planned Parenthood is still under investigation by the United States Congress, as they should be, because they are the real criminals in this matter."
Prosecutors alleged that Daleiden and Merritt used fake driver’s licenses to conceal their identities while dealing with Planned Parenthood in Houston. They said the two posed as representatives of a fake biomedical company. The undercover videos, part of a 30-month multi-state investigation by Daleiden, accused Planned Parenthood of illegally selling fetal tissue to researchers for profit through its “fetal tissue donation” program.
Merritt and Daleiden, who founded a group called the Center for Medical Progress, previously rejected plea deals offering them probation.
Texas authorities initially began a grand jury investigation of Planned Parenthood after the undercover videos were released last August.
But the grand jury cleared Planned Parenthood of misusing fetal tissue and instead indicted Merritt and Daleiden, who has said he was working undercover as a journalist to expose illegalities in the handling of fetal tissue.
Terry Yates, one of Daleiden's lawyers, said the prosecutor's office agreed with their contention that the grand jury improperly used its extended term to further investigate the case, meaning it "didn't have jurisdiction."
"Regardless of however it came, we're happy today this matter is over," he said.
The grand jury also indicted Daleiden for the misdemeanor crime of trying to buy fetal tissue, but the indictment was dismissed by a Harris County judge on June 13.
Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, in a statement, said just because the final Texas charges were dropped, it doesn't mean the defendants were innocent. President and CEO Melaney Linton said Planned Parenthood "has been cleared of any wrongdoing time and again," and that activists like Daleidan "spent three years creating a fake company, creating fake identities, and lying."
The pair still faces an investigation by California Attorney General Kamala Harris.