TAMPA - John Andrew Welden poses "an overwhelming risk of flight" if he is released on bail, said a federal judge who nonetheless ruled Monday that Welden may be let out while awaiting trial on charges he tricked his pregnant girlfriend into taking an abortion pill. U.S. Magistrate Anthony Porcelli said during a hearing last week that Welden "would be a fool not to run" but in his order issued Monday said the danger Welden will flee can be minimized if Welden hires private security to guard him - an unusual and expensive condition of release. Porcelli also directed that Welden be confined to his home and monitored via GPS and that $250,000 in property be posted to secure his release. The prosecution says Welden was determined not to let his girlfriend, Remee Jo Lee, give birth to their baby because he was worried his long-term girlfriend, Tara Fillinger, would find out.
Welden took Lee to see his father, an OB-GYN doctor, and then told Lee she had an infection. He is accused of giving Lee the drug Cytotec and telling her it was amoxicillin, a common antibiotic. Lee, who was six or seven weeks pregnant, took a Cytotec pill and later lost the baby. Referring to the private security requirement, Porcelli wrote in a seven-page opinion that it is "a very effective and appropriate condition of release to address both the issues of risk of flight and danger to the community." Still, the judge wrote that judges don't often include this condition "because of the potential costs." During the bail hearing last week, defense lawyer Todd Foster told Porcelli that Welden's parents would be willing to sell one of their five properties to help pay for the guards if the judge required them. Porcelli last imposed the security guard requirement on Grammy-winning reggae artist Buju Banton in December 2010. Banton, whose real name is Mark Myrie, was later convicted of drug trafficking and is appealing. The Jamaican-born singer paid more than $20,000 a month for security guards to watch him at his South Florida home while awaiting trial in Tampa. To help pay for the security, as well as legal expenses, the court gave approval for Banton to perform at a concert in Miami while he was awaiting trial. Other high-profile, usually wealthy, criminal suspects have been released from federal custody under private guard, including Bernard Madoff, who stayed out of jail after his arrest in a massive Ponzi scheme, holed up in his swanky Manhattan home with security guards paid for by his wife. Another New York Ponzi scheme defendant, lawyer Marc Dreier, was released from jail pending the outcome of his case after his relatives agreed to pay $70,000 a month for private security guards. And in Tampa, 79-year-old family therapist Charles Jackson Friedlander avoided jail pending trial after the court accepted a proposal by his lawyer that he be guarded by retired law enforcement officers. Friedlander was later sentenced to 30 years in federal prison for trying to beat and sexually molest two young boys. In his order Monday, Porcelli detailed the prosecution evidence, noting, "The defendant, during multiple statements, has admitted to inexplicable, deplorable and deceitful acts... At this stage in the proceeding, the court finds the evidence against the defendant detailed and compelling." Welden faces a mandatory life sentence if convicted of a form of murder under the "Unborn Victims of Violence Act." He also is charged with product tampering. Although Porcelli noted the defense has presented expert evidence that the Cytotec couldn't have killed the embryo and that Lee had a natural miscarriage, the judge said the evidence "does not in any way modify the defendant's own statements, which taken alone, could still subject the defendant to significant penalties for an attempt to kill the unborn child." Porcelli scheduled a July 1 hearing for the parties to address the security detail and other conditions. At the hearing last week, Porcelli said he expected an appeal however he ruled and suggested he may delay any release to give the prosecution time to seek another ruling from the district judge in the case. [email protected] 813-259-7837 Twitter: @ElaineTBO