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Why The Indictments In Planned Parenthood's Video Case Are Unusual


We are now awaiting the moment when two anti-abortion activists turn themselves in to Texas authorities.


A grand jury in Houston indicted the video makers on felony charges of tampering with a government record by using fake drivers' licenses to gain access to Planned Parenthood. The undercover videos claiming to show Planned Parenthood sold fetal tissue for profit were stunning and got a huge amount of press.

MONTAGNE: The grand jury was originally looking at charges against Planned Parenthood and surprised everyone when the jurors turned around and indicted the video makers. To better understand the twists and turns in this case, we've got Philip Hilder on the line. He's a criminal defense attorney and former federal prosecutor in Houston.

Good morning.

PHILIP HILDER: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: How unusual is this ruling?

HILDER: I think it's pretty unusual but it's not unprecedented.

MONTAGNE: Not unprecedented. Do you have any - well, let's go on to the indictment. The prosecutor in Houston, Devon Anderson, she's a Republican, and the party and some state officials are now complaining about this outcome. It certainly is a twist. Is there a chance the prosecutor will drop these charges or not bring charges?

HILDER: No, I do not think that is a possibility. I think the prosecutor has stated that they followed the evidence and that is what happened here. They went into, the grand jury, initially looking at Planned Parenthood but I think after the grand jury's investigation, they decided that there were no charges to be brought against Planned Parenthood and rather the two videographers should be charged with second-degree felonies involving tampering with the government record, that is, using a driver's license with the attempt to defraud another, and the second individual is also charged with procuring human organ fetal tissue for valuable consideration, or pay to for it. But I think it was a surprise, but, the grand juries, don't forget, are independent bodies. They followed the evidence and this is what their return was.

MONTAGNE: Well, how - you know, you've said felony, but how serious are these charges? Because, you know, a fake ID - I'm sorry to say - a lot of people have it.

HILDER: Yes. That is - though they are charged and though the penalties may be up to 20 years, the reality is if convicted, I would foresee that they would get probation, but there's a lot to go on in the justice system between now and in conviction.

MONTAGNE: Just briefly - how - grand jury deliberations are completely secret. The prosecutor said, we must go where the evidence leads us. What does this ruling say about the evidence?

HILDER: Well, I think the grand jury initially had their target, Planned Parenthood, but I think after reviewing the evidence, they were deeply troubled by it and that's why they turned the tables and indicted the videographers. I mean, it's a very unusual turn of events here.

MONTAGNE: Well, as you said, very unusual. Is there anything political - I can't say - know how to say that, but, in Texas going on here? Obviously, there were a lot of people behind getting not the videographers but Planned Parenthood.

HILDER: Well, I suppose the argument would've been made if Planned Parenthood was indicted that it was all political, but I do think that this turn of events shows that the grand jury in this instance was independent. They evaluated the evidence and this is what happened.

MONTAGNE: All right. Well, thank you very much, Mr. Hilder.

Philip Hilder, he's a criminal defense attorney and former federal prosecutor in Houston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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