Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.
Criminal charges against the anti-abortion activists behind undercover recordings of a Houston Planned Parenthood facility were dismissed Tuesday.
David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt, the videographers who infiltrated Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, had been charged with tampering with a governmental record, a second-degree felony charge that carries up to 20 years in prison. A court clerk confirmed that the Harris County district attorney's office filed the motion to dismiss the case against Daleiden and Merritt.
Harris County DA Devon Anderson said in a statement that Texas limits what can be investigated after a grand jury term gets extended, which happened in this case.
"In light of this and after careful research and review, this office dismissed the indictments," Anderson said.
Daleiden and Merritt were accused of using fake California driver’s licenses to enter the Planned Parenthood facilities where they recorded staff discussing the costs of providing fetal tissue for research.
The tampering with a governmental record count was the last remaining charge against the activists. A Harris County judge in June tossed a second charge against Daleiden — a misdemeanor charge for offering to sell or buy fetal tissue — because of a technical problem with the indictment filed by prosecutors.
Daleiden’s team had asked a judge to dismiss his indictments, alleging they were a result of improper proceedings by prosecutors and that the grand jury — originally asked to investigate Planned Parenthood, not the videographers — exceeded its authority.
Attorneys for the anti-abortion activists celebrated the dismissal, calling the indictments "bogus" and "baseless."
Daleiden's attorney Peter Breen on Tuesday said the DA's motion to dismiss the charges was based on the motion to quash the indictments filed by the activist's legal team in April. And he reiterated their claim that Daleiden was working as an undercover journalist at the time of the recordings.
"This meritless and retaliatory prosecution should never have been brought," Breen said in a statement. "Planned Parenthood did wrong here, not David Daleiden."
The criminal charges against the videographers were a result of a criminal investigation launched at the urging of Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick into the women’s health organization following the release of the activists’ recordings.
But a Harris County grand jury in January instead handed up charges against Daleiden and Merritt.
Planned Parenthood had hailed the grand jury's actions as vindication of its vehement denials that its staff violated any laws. Tuesday’s dismissal of charges against the activists clears up a twist in Texas Republican’s ongoing fight against the women’s health organization, but Planned Parenthood officials said the charges were dismissed on a technicality and not because the activists are innocent.
"The decision to drop the prosecution on a technicality does not negate the fact that the only people who engaged in wrongdoing are the extremists behind this fraud,” said Melaney Linton, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast.
Disclosure: Planned Parenthood has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.