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Two Abortion Activists Indicted in Clinic Fires

March 27, 1996

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (AP) _ Two anti-abortion activists were indicted on federal conspiracy and arson charges for fires at two Virginia abortion clinics.

Jennifer Sperle and Clark Martin, along with unidentified co-conspirators, dropped roadside flares and lighter fluid through a mail slot at a Newport News clinic, the indictment stated. In Norfolk, they ignited kerosene after breaking a window.

The fires caused minor damage to the abortion clinics.

The indictment stated that Mrs. Sperle also tried to show others how to destroy clinics, including providing an underground how-to manual.

If convicted, Mrs. Sperle and Martin each face up to 45 years in prison and $250,000 in fines.

A federal grand jury probe into the fires began Feb. 28. At least two anti-abortion activists were taken into custody for refusing to testify; one woman spent nearly a month in jail before she talked and was released Monday.

The woman, Rae Powell, said she told the grand jury that Mrs. Sperle gave her a copy of the Army of God manual, an underground booklet that describes how to blow up abortion clinics.

Mrs. Sperle, who moved last year from Norfolk to Wichita, Kan., was arrested in Wichita Tuesday, officials said. It was unknown if Martin was in custody. His attorney told authorities he would surrender.

``The good news here is that they got two indictments, which indicates that the Justice Department didn’t just abandon its abortion violence investigation as some anti-abortionists had mistakenly claimed in January,″ said Eleanor Smeal, head of the Feminist Majority Foundation in Arlington.

``It’s encouraging that they could bring a conspiracy charge, because some anti-abortionists have been saying there is no conspiracy,″ she said.

When Mrs. Sperle’s name first surfaced as a target of the investigation, she said she was more angry than worried about it.

She said she had allowed a former abortion clinic security guard to stay in her home after he claimed he had ``seen the light,″ but she had come to believe he was an FBI informant.

``We’re a Christian family,″ said Mrs. Sperle, who is pregnant with her fourth child. ``We’ll take anybody at their word until they prove otherwise.″

Martin had been arrested in a 1994 protest at a Newport News clinic. His attorney, David Daulton, said Monday that his client and his wife, Patricia Martin, were unaware of any violent activities or conspiracy.

Mrs. Sperle lived in Norfolk at the time of the December 1994 fire at the Peninsula Medical Center for Women in Newport News and the March 1995 at the Tidewater Women’s Health Center in Norfolk.

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