HOUSTON (KTRK) --Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson has released a video statement responding to the backlash following a grand jury's decision to indict two anti-abortion activists at the center of an undercover Planned Parenthood video controversy.
Anderson's office initially launched the grand jury investigation to look into Planned Parenthood after undercover videos surfaced claiming the nation's largest abortion provider illegally sold fetal tissue to make a profit. However, the Houston grand jury cleared Planned Parenthood of misusing fetal tissue and instead on Monday indicted David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt, who made the videos, on felony charges of tampering with a governmental record for using fake driver's licenses. Daleiden also faces a misdemeanor related to purchasing human organs.
Attorney Terry Yates said at a news conference that the case against anti-abortion activists Daleiden and Merritt won't stand up in court.
"How many of us have used a fictitious driver's license to buy beer?" Yates said. "Can you imagine every kid that did that being charged with a second-degree felony? This grand jury has overreached. Obviously a runaway grand jury would do that.
Jared Woodfill, another attorney for the activists, said the methods that Daleiden and Merritt used to make the undercover videos are not different "than the tactics used by investigative reporters all around this country for decades."
And Houston criminal defense attorney Grant Scheiner, who's not affiliated with the case, called the charges "pretty straight forward," adding that the activists "used fake IDs, which is not something that a legitimate or reputable journalist would do."
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Anderson has said she respects the grand jury's decision "on this difficult case." She is out of the state at the moment but recorded a video to respond to those opposing the decision. In it she says:
"First, at a press conference today, the defense attorneys asked me re-present the investigation to another grand jury. I am not going to do that. We have a long standing policy against grand jury shopping. That means when a grand jury comes back with a decision we don't like we don't go and find another one to get the result we want. That violates the integrity of the whole system. The only time we re-present is if new evidence comes to light. Twelve Harris County citizens have spoken and I respect their decision even if it conflicts with my personal beliefs.
"The defense attorneys also said today that the "Tampering with a Governmental Record cases should not have been charged as a felony since young people who are caught with fake ID's typically face misdemeanor charges. But under Texas Law, if a person uses a fake ID from another state, it is a felony charge. That's the law."
The video footage showed Daleiden and Merritt posing as representatives of a company called BioMax, which purportedly procured fetal tissue for research. Planned Parenthood has said the fake company offered to pay the "astronomical amount" of $1,600 for organs from a fetus. The Houston Planned Parenthood clinic said it never agreed to the offer and ceased contact with BioMax because it was "disturbed" by the overtures.
As for the misdemeanor charge related to the purchase of human organs that Daleiden faces, Yates called it "ridiculous", saying the activist "never was going to actually purchase them."
But Scheiner said that all Daleiden needed to do to be charged was to make an offer to buy human organs or tissue.
The tampering with a governmental record charge is the more serious one in this case and carries punishment of up to 20 years in prison.
However, legal experts say that even if the activists are convicted, it's unlikely they will face any prison time.
Arrest warrants have been issued for Daleiden and Merritt, but Yates said the district attorney's office has agreed to allow the two activists to travel from California, where they live, to Houston. They would then surrender to authorities, be processed at the Harris County Jail and could post bond. Yates said no date has been set for when that would happen. Bond for Daleiden and Merritt has been set at $11,000 and $10,000, respectively.
The Associated Press contributed to this report