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Activist Convicted of Killing Abortion Doctor

March 6, 1994

PENSACOLA, Fla. (AP) _ An anti-abortion activist was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison Saturday for shooting a doctor as he arrived at a clinic to perform abortions.

The jury deliberated about two hours and 40 minutes before convicting Michael F. Griffin, 32, in the slaying of Dr. David Gunn.

A few minutes after the verdict was announced, Circuit Judge John Parnham sentenced Griffin, a former Pensacola chemical worker, to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years. The prosecution had agreed not to seek the death penalty.

Gunn, 47, was shot three times in the back behind a Pensacola abortion clinic while a protest was under way in front of the building on March 10, 1993.

Gunn’s son, David Gunn Jr., and Griffin’s wife, Patricia, were in the courtroom as the verdict was announced. Gunn’s son gave a slight smile; Mrs. Griffin looked distressed and wiped her face with a tissue.

″I felt justice had in fact been served,″ Gunn’s son said. ″Griffin does need to be robbed of the rest of his natural life as he robbed my father of his natural life.″

Gunn was the first doctor slain as a result of violence against U.S. abortion clinics. Arson, bombings, chemical attacks and break-ins have been reported at clinics nationwide.

Griffin declined to make a statement before being sentenced.

″Good luck to you, Mr. Griffin,″ was the judge’s final comment after sentencing him. He gave Griffin credit for time served.

During closing arguments Saturday, Assistant State Attorney James Murray called Griffin an ″assassin″ 11 times.

″This is not a case about abortion,″ Murray told the jury. ″Michael Griffin walked up and assassinated Dr. David Gunn.″

Murray read from a letter Griffin sent to other anti-abortion activists from jail that said if one baby is saved, it would be worth losing his life.

″This is an assassin talking. This is an assassin bragging about what he did,″ Murray said.

Defense lawyer Robert Kerrigan complained to the jury that Murray used ″careless language″ by calling Griffin an assassin.

Kerrigan said Griffin was neither the mastermind of a plot to kill Gunn nor the triggerman. He conceded it was difficult to question testimony by police officers who said Griffin confessed immediately after the shooting, but suggested his client may have admitted to the crime to protect others.

The defense also cast doubts on the ballistics evidence, saying the level of antimony, an element in gunshot residue, was too low to conclusively say Griffin handled the murder weapon. Kerrigan argued the antimony must have come from Griffin’s workplace, a nylon factory.

Griffin did not testify during the two-week trial. His lawyers wanted to use an insanity defense, but Parnham refused to allow it because Griffin had refused to be examined by a prosecution psychologist and the defense had planned to call no mental health experts of its own. The judge said expert testimony is required for an insanity defense.

Defense lawyers had contended that anti-abortion videos, literature and rhetoric had driven Griffin temporarily insane.

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