By Jason Tomassini
BALTIMORE (Reuters) - Two doctors have been charged under a fetal homicide law after an investigation into a botched abortion uncovered 35 fetuses in a Maryland clinic's freezer, authorities said on Friday, calling the case the first of its kind in the state.
The doctors, Steven Chase Brigham, 55, and Nicola Irene Riley, 46, were both arrested on fugitive warrants on Wednesday, police in Elkton, Maryland, said.
"They have been indicted based upon a fetal homicide statute. This is probably the first case that Maryland has ever seen with this factual scenario using this statute. It's a unique situation," Maryland State Attorney Ellis Rollins told Reuters.
The Baltimore Sun newspaper said the fetuses discovered at the clinic ranged up to 35 weeks in development. A fetus is generally considered viable at about 24 weeks.
Brigham was arrested on Wednesday in Voorhees, New Jersey, according to a statement by the Elkton Police Department.
Riley was arrested at her home in Salt Lake City without incident, according to Lieutenant Justin Hoyal, spokesman for the Unified Police of Greater Salt Lake.
Prosecutors were expected to seek their extradition to Maryland.
The Sun said the case was believed to be the first use of Maryland's fetal homicide law involving medical professionals. It said the law had previously been used in cases involving the slayings of pregnant women.
The newspaper said Maryland law forbids aborting a fetus deemed viable but does not define viability in terms of number of weeks of development.
The investigation began in August 2010, when a young woman sought an abortion from the pair.
The abortion was induced in New Jersey and the patient was then transported across state lines into Maryland, according to the Elkton police statement.
The operation was botched with both Brigham and Riley present, Elkton police said, although the statement did not elaborate on the nature of complications.
Riley took the woman to a nearby hospital, police said. The woman, who was not identified by authorities, survived and was later moved to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.
Both Riley and Brigham have had their medical licenses suspended by the state of Maryland, according to the Maryland State Board of Physicians.
Brigham has carried out approximately 50 such cross-state abortions, according to documents on the board's website.
Officers who searched the Elkton clinic found several fetuses in a freezer, police said. A source who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity said there were 35 fetuses found in the clinic freezer.
Brigham is charged with five counts of first-degree murder, five counts of second-degree murder and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder.
Riley is charged with one count each of first-degree murder, second-degree murder and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, police said.
An Elkton Police spokesman deferred further questions to Kerwin Miller, the assistant state's attorney for Cecil County who is prosecuting the case.
Miller could not be reached for comment. Attorneys for Riley and Brigham also could not be reached for comment Friday. (Additional reporting by Mary Slosson and Dan Whitcomb; Writing by Mary Slosson; Editing by Greg McCune and Bill Trott)
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.