Last week, the two activists were charged with felony counts of tampering with government documents in connection with fake California driver’s licenses that they used as part of their ruse — a charge that carries the possibility of jail time. Daleiden was also indicted on a misdemeanor charge related to the purchase of human tissue. Prosecutors this week offered both activists probation if they plead guilty, which a spokesman for the district attorney’s office said is standard in cases involving first-time, nonviolent offenders.
But attorneys for Daleiden and Merritt said they are not accepting the offer at this time, because they do not believe their clients did anything wrong. Daleiden and his attorneys have defended his actions as “fully in the tradition” of investigative journalists such as those with CBS’s “60 Minutes.”
“David will not be taking the [offer],” Peter Breen, special counsel with the Thomas More Society, a legal aid organization assisting with Daleiden’s criminal defense, told reporters outside the Harris County courthouse Thursday. “What we want is an apology, and that’s where we’re at right now. He is innocent of the charges.”
The project undertaken by Daleiden and Merritt attempted to prove that Planned Parenthood sells fetal tissue, left over from abortions, for scientific research. Selling the material for a profit is illegal, but clinics are permitted to recover some costs, such as handling and shipping.
Daleiden spent 30 months posing as a representative from a tissue procurement company, lunching with top Planned Parenthood executives and gaining access to private areas of clinics. In the summer, he released several edited videos as well as longer footage of his encounters. The project prompted multiple investigations by states and by Congress, none of which have found wrongdoing on the part of Planned Parenthood.
Harris County was among the jurisdictions that looked into the allegations against Planned Parenthood, but last week a grand jury announced no findings against the women’s health and abortion provider. Instead, it handed down indictments of Daleiden and Merritt.
In a statement Thursday, Planned Parenthood officials ridiculed Daleiden’s characterization of himself as a journalist.
“We don’t know of any journalists who have engaged in wire fraud and mail fraud, lied to multiple government agencies, tampered with government documents, and broken laws in at least four states — only to lie about what they found,” said Eric Ferrero, vice president at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “It’s hard to imagine anyone calling that ‘journalism.’ “