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County Prosecutors Offer Probation Deals to Abortion Foes

Anti-abortion activists indicted after infiltrating a Houston Planned Parenthood facility were offered probation deals by Harris County prosecutors. David Daleiden, one of the videographers, rejected the offer and plans to fight the charges.

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Anti-abortion activist David Daleiden, one of the videographers indicted after infiltrating a Houston Planned Parenthood facility, on Thursday rejected prosecutors’ offer of a probation deal, according to his attorney.

Daleiden and his associate, Sandra Merritt, were charged last week by a Harris County grand jury as part of the district attorney's investigation into allegations that Planned Parenthood was selling fetal tissue. Both are accused of tampering with a governmental record, and Daleiden faces a second charge for offering to purchase fetal tissue.

County prosecutors this week offered both activists pre-trial diversion, a form of probation. But Daleiden rejected the offer and plans to fight the charges, said attorney Jared Woodfill. It’s unclear whether Merritt has accepted or rejected the deal.

The indictments of the activists — a twist in Texas Republicans’ fight against Planned Parenthood — include a charge against Daleiden and Merritt for using fake California driver’s licenses “with the purpose to defraud and harm another” as part of their attempt to enter a Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast clinic in Houston. That’s a second-degree felony that carries a punishment of up to 20 years in prison.

Daleiden was indicted on a second charge for “unlawfully, intentionally and knowingly” offering to buy fetal tissue “for valuable consideration” — the same charge he tried to secretly catch Planned Parenthood committing in undercover recordings of staff at a Houston clinic.

That charge is a class A misdemeanor that carries a punishment of up to a year in jail.

At the urging of Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the Harris County District Attorney’s office launched a criminal investigation into the women’s health organization after an undercover video surfaced showing Planned Parenthood staff in Houston discussing the costs of providing fetal tissue for research.

The grand jury cleared the women’s health organization of wrongdoing, instead handing down the charges against Daleiden and Merritt.

Daleiden and Merritt were set to turn themselves in at the Harris County Sheriff’s Office and appear in court this week before state District Judge Brock Thomas.

Pre-trial diversion, a sort of probation, is offered to many first-time, nonviolent offenders. If offenders keep a clean record for a predetermined length of time, their charges can be dismissed. Prosecutors have not drawn up a specific contract and conditions for Daleiden and Merritt.

Disclosure: Planned Parenthood was a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune in 2011. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

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