Woman Indicted in Abortion Clinic Attacks in Four States
Oct. 24, 1994
WASHINGTON (AP) _ A woman imprisoned for the attempted murder of a doctor who performed abortions faces 30 felony counts in attacks on nine abortion clinics in California, Oregon, Idaho and Nevada, the Justice Department announced today.
Rachelle Ranae ''Shelley'' Shannon was indicted by federal grand juries in Sacramento, Calif., and Portland, Ore., for attacks in 1992 and 1993, Justice spokesman John Russell said.
Shannon, 38, is serving a 10-year prison sentence for the wounding of Wichita, Kan., physician George Tiller in August 1993.
In addition to arson attacks, she is charged with injecting butyric acid - described by the department as a noxious, foul-smelling substance - into the walls of clinics in Reno, Nev., and Chico, Calif., and using napalm in the firebombing of a Sacramento clinic.
The acid ''smells like vomit'' and ''permeates the room,'' said Russell, who added that this is the first time federal charges on the use of the acid have been brought, he said.
''Violence against clinics which provide reproductive health services constitutes domestic terrorism,'' Charles J. Stevens, U.S. attorney in Sacramento, said in a statement. ''Investigating and prosecuting such conduct is a high priority in this office.''
Eleanor Smeal, president of the Washington-based Feminist Majority Foundation, praised prosecutors for ''finally'' bringing indictments, but said it's ''shocking that there's no indictments of anyone else.''
''I find it incomprehensible that one person, all by herself, could have gone on a crime spree in four states involving arson, butyric acid and shooting a doctor without anyone else having know or been involved,'' Smeal said. She urged authorities to continue the investigation ''until others are brought to justice.''
The same thinking was expressed by some abortion clinic administrators, who don't believe Shannon acted alone.
''Clearly, there are arsonists and violent anti-abortion forces still at large,'' said Sally Sheklow, development director of the Feminist Women's Health Center in Eugene, Ore., which was struck by arson on Sept. 16, 1992.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Peifer in Portland declined to say if others might be charged in connection with the attacks. The involvement of others, if any, is ''a matter that will be brought out at trial as a matter of evidence,'' he said, adding that he could not comment on the evidence.
All of the incidents occurred before the new law protecting access to abortion clinics went into effect last May 26.
The Sunday Oregonian in Portland reported that Shannon wrote to Chico police in January that she spread acid at the Chico Feminist Women's Health Center in 1991. The acid hurt employees' eyes and made some of them ill, and forced the center to close for several days.
The newspaper also reported that investigators searched her home in Grants Pass, Ore., in September 1993 and found nine letters related to bombings and journals, books and documents buried in her yard.
Shannon faces a total of six counts of arson, seven counts of interference with commerce by force, seven counts of interstate travel in aid of racketeering, eight counts of use of fire in the commission of a federal felony, one count of use of a destructive device (napalm) in relation to a crime of violence, and one count of possession of an unregistered destructive device.
Separate trials were expected in Portland and Sacramento. Under an agreement between the U.S. attorneys' offices, the Sacramento trial will occur first, and Shannon's first appearance in court there was anticipated in about six weeks, Peifer said.
The targets of the attacks were the Feminist Women's Health Centers in Redding, Sacramento and Chico in California and in Eugene, Ore.; the Pregnancy Consultation Center in Sacramento; the Catalina Medical Clinic and offices of Dr. Willard L. Brown in Ashland, Ore.; the Lovejoy Surgicenter in Portland; the West End Women's Health Group in Reno and the Women's Health Care Center in Boise, Idaho.
In a letter to the Chico Police Department in January, Shannon claimed she had injected the acid into a wall of the Chico center in 1992, writing: ''I did the stink attack and would be willing to take a lie detector test and describe details to prove it.''
Authorities searched her home in Grants Pass, Ore., in September 1993 and reported finding items buried in the yard, including nine letters related to bombings as well as journals, books and documents.
In an interview from jail on Wednesday with the Wichita Eagle newspaper, Shannon said a prison official took pictures of two photographs she had on her wall of the Redding clinic that burned.
''I didn't think it proved anything except that I liked it,'' she told the Kansas newspaper. ''I think they all look good on fire.''
In a letter to The Oregonian last year, Shannon explained how investigators had found things that she had buried behind her home, including her 1992 diary. ''Soon everyone will know a lot more about other works of mine,'' she said.
''I have no regrets,'' she wrote.