HOUSTON (AP) — One of the two anti-abortion activists indicted last month after making undercover videos about Planned Parenthood has been offered probation to settle the charge, prosecutors announced Wednesday.
The possible resolution was made public following Sandra Merritt's initial court appearance after she turned herself in to Texas authorities and posted a $2,000 bond, which had been reduced from $10,000.
The other activist, David Daleiden, was scheduled to turn himself in Thursday. Both are charged with tampering with a governmental record, a felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison. Daleiden also was indicted on a misdemeanor count related to purchasing human organs that carries up to a year in prison. The two activists plan to plead not guilty.
Harris County prosecutor Britni Cooper said Wednesday that Merritt has been offered pretrial diversion, which is a form of probation typically offered to nonviolent first-time offenders. If Merritt maintains a clean record while on probation then the charge could be dismissed, Cooper said.
"A pretrial diversion is what (Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson) felt was the right thing to do in the case," said Cooper, adding that Merritt hasn't indicated whether she'll accept the offer. Anderson's office said pretrial diversion to resolve such a charge is not unique.
Merritt declined to comment Wednesday, but stood outside the courthouse beside attorney Dan Cogdell as he criticized the prosecution and said that "we look forward to our day in court."
"The indictment is wrong-headed," he said. "I don't care if you're pro-life. I don't care if you're pro-choice. This case is dumber than a bucket of hair."
Warrants had been issued for Merritt and Daleiden's arrests following their indictments on Jan. 25. But the activists' attorneys had made arrangements with authorities to have them voluntarily come from California, where they live. State records show Merritt lives in San Jose, has operated a tutoring business and has held a cosmetology license since 1982. According to Federal Election Commission records, Merritt donated $1,000 in 2012 to the presidential campaign of former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who is a staunch opponent of abortion. In those records, Merritt listed her occupation as tutor.
Merritt's next court date in Texas is scheduled for March 28.
Anderson's office initially launched the grand jury investigation to look into Planned Parenthood after the undercover videos claimed that the nation's largest abortion provider illegally sold fetal tissue to make a profit. The grand jury cleared Planned Parenthood of misusing fetal tissue, opting instead to indict Daleiden and Merritt, who made the videos and are accused of using fake driver's licenses to get into a Houston clinic.
The video footage showed them posing as representatives of a company called BioMax, which purportedly procured fetal tissue for research. Planned Parenthood has said the fake company offered to pay the "astronomical amount" of $1,600 for organs from a fetus. The clinic said it never agreed to the offer.
The activists' attorneys have acknowledged the two used fake driver's licenses, but Cogdell said their actions weren't meant to defraud or harm the abortion provider, and that they never intended to buy human organs. The attorneys also have asked Anderson to drop the case and resubmit the evidence to another grand jury on possible charges against Planned Parenthood.
Anderson has said that she won't resubmit the case because she respects the grand jury's decision "even if it conflicts with my personal beliefs," which Anderson described as "pro-life."
Associated Press writer David Warren in Dallas contributed to this report.
Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter at www.twitter.com/juanlozano70