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Matters of Life and Death : New Book Puts Back in the Spotlight 16-Year-Old Case of an Orange County Doctor Tried Twice but Never Convicted of Strangling to Death a Baby After an Abortion He Had Performed


When nurses saw the baby move and make a faint noise, they immediately called Waddill. Nurses would later testify that Waddill instructed them over the phone, "Don't do a goddamned thing for that baby except oxygen." The doctor said he believed any "heroic" life-saving measures would be futile because there was no hope the baby would survive.

Live births from saline abortions were rare back then, according to medical authorities. Saline isn't used today because of the potential health risks to the mother, said Dr. Andrea Rapkin, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at UCLA.

When Waddill arrived at the hospital and viewed the baby in the nursery, he would later testify, "The abortus looked absolutely lifeless . . . for all intents and purposes, dead."

Later, he said he did see the infant make some gasps. But he insisted they were associated with the baby going through the final throes of death. He still believed the infant had no hope for survival after being bathed for hours in the deadly saline solution.

Waddill then ordered everyone out of the nursery, except for pediatrician Ronald J. Cornelson.

What happened next to the baby has ultimately come down to Cornelson's word against Waddill's.

According to Waddill, the baby died from the massive exposure to the saline solution. But a few days after the incident, Cornelson told police that he had watched in horror as Waddill tried three times to strangle the infant before it finally succeeded on the fourth attempt.

"It was a nightmare," Cornelson, who became the chief witness against Waddill, said recently of the trial.

The fiercest battles during the trial were waged by the medical experts, according to then Chief Deputy Dist. Atty. James Enright.

The defense strongly challenged the conclusions reached by Orange County pathologists who said there was physical evidence that the baby was strangled. Waddill's attorney also called experts who testified that doctors often have to make decisions on not to prolong life when death is certain.

Experts differed on whether the baby was even alive outside the womb and its age. Even the prosecution's experts acknowledged that the baby could not have lived for any real length of time.

Under the law then and now, doctors can perform an abortion up until the time a fetus is considered viable--able to survive outside the womb. That standard of viability, however, has changed over the years as medical technology has enabled increasingly younger premature infants to be saved, according to UCLA's Rapkin.

Viability at one time was 28 weeks, then 24 weeks. Now, many doctors won't perform abortions if the fetus is older than 22 weeks because of the potential legal risk, Rapkin said.

If the fetus was born alive, but was judged to be less than 24 weeks old and not viable, no attempt would probably be made to resuscitate or prolong the life of the fetus, Rapkin said.

Despite all the ethical issues that were raised during the Waddill case, former Orange County Superior Court Judge Byron McMillan, who presided over the trial, says it "never should have been tried as a morality case. It was a murder case."

Reaction to Gallagher's book--his first--ranges from curiosity to anger from those involved in the case. Gallagher, 50, says he drew ideas for the book not only from the Waddill proceedings, but also from other criminal cases, his imagination and years of experience as a lawyer.

Waddill, whose personal and professional life was shattered by the criminal accusations, is disturbed that the incident is being resurrected in a book, says Weedman, the doctor's former criminal defense attorney. Waddill, according to Gallagher, has not seen an advance copy of the book.

Once one of the most successful gynecologists/obstetricians in Orange County, Waddill estimated that his lucrative practice grossed between $300,000 to $500,000 annually before he was charged with murder.

The allegations against him destroyed all that, said Weedman. Despite the dismissal of the charges and his determination to rebuild his medical career, Waddill eventually lost his private practice, Weedman said.

For a time, he took a new direction. He went to law school and graduated. But never took the bar, said his former lawyer. Now 57, Waddill is still a licensed doctor and works at a medical clinic in Orange County.

Waddill was even sued by Weaver, the mother of the infant. She sought $7 million in damages, alleging that she was traumatized by the events and accused Waddill of misdiagnosing how far along she was in the pregnancy when he agreed to perform the abortion. In court documents she indicated she never would have had the abortion had she known how old the fetus was.

The suit, according to her Newport Beach attorney, Joseph Angelo, was settled out of court, but he declined to discuss the terms.

Even Chatterton, the man who prosecuted Waddill, acknowledges the traumatic effect the trials had on the doctor's life.

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