The man considered the first known murderer of an abortion care provider will effectively spend the rest of his life behind bars, the Florida Commission on Offender Review decided Wednesday.
The commission voted to set the presumptive parole release date for Michael F. Griffin for March 9, 2043, when Griffin will be 82.
On a spring morning in 1993 outside a Pensacola, Florida, abortion clinic, Griffin fired three shots into the back of Dr. David Gunn, killing him. Griffin was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. Wednesday’s hearing was the first time he was up for parole.
An anti-abortion activist with ties to Operation Rescue, Griffin was heard yelling, “Don’t kill any more babies” before reportedly chasing down the doctor and shooting him at point blank range. Griffin’s defense argued that John Burt, regional director of the radical anti-choice group Operation Rescue, indoctrinated Griffin with a barrage of films, videos, aborted fetuses, and “effigies of nurses and physicians,” as the New York Times reported at the 1994 trial.
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The murder spurred the passage of the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act. And it incited anti-abortion extremists to further violence. Since then, abortion rights foes have murdered 10 people and attempted to kill 26 more in attacks on abortion providers, according to the National Abortion Federation, which has tracked anti-choice violence since 1977.
Five days after Gunn’s murder, another anti-abortion activist, Paul Hill, appeared on the Phil Donahue Show. Hill told the host he considered slaying an abortion provider akin to murdering Hitler, and he believed in “the justifiable homicide of abortionists to save the lives of unborn babies.”
A little more than a year later, Hill arrived at Pensacola’s only other abortion clinic with a shotgun and killed Dr. John Bayard Britton. Also murdered was James H. Barrett, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who volunteered as a clinic escort.
Prior to Wednesday’s hearing, advocates mounted a letter writing campaign demanding the commission reject Griffin’s bid for parole.
“I began providing abortions full time on the day that the last abortion provider was assassinated, Dr. George Tiller, a man I knew personally, was shot and killed,” said Dr. Willie Parker, abortion provider and author of Life’s Work: A Moral Argument for Choice, in a statement. “One of the many threats that I constantly receive is that someone ought to shoot me. As long as Griffin is locked up, I can be sure that it won’t be him.”
Commissioners rate extenuating circumstances in determining whether to grant parole. Aggravating factors diminish the possibility of release, and victims are given ten minutes to address commissioners. Gunn’s son, David Gunn Jr., who was 22 at the time of his father’s murder, reportedly read from a 13-page letter that painted a moving portrait of a dedicated doctor and of a family haunted by anti-choice violence to this day. He called anti-choice terrorism a “second death”:
I doubt many people can understand how isolating it is endure conversations where the person begins, “I’m sorry your father was murdered, but he was killing babies…” I listened as a soon-to-be murderer compared my dad to Dr. Josef Mengele two days after his funeral. We attended memorial services for our family member that were picketed and protested by a soon-to-be murderer. We have been at services where we received FBI warnings concerning potential threats on the lives of attendees. I have received death threats for speaking on behalf of an assassinated family member. We have seen gravesite vandalism. Each indignity is another instance of inmate Griffin haunting us daily. It is a second death and an ongoing murder we endure at the hands of inmate Griffin every single day. He metaphorically murders us every da[y].