Michael F. Griffin, the Christian fundamentalist who, in 1993, was the first to kill an abortion doctor for an anti-choice cause and spawned a wave of violence against other providers, will probably spend the rest of his life in prison.
Florida’s parole board rejected a state investigator’s recommendation to set Griffin free next year, deciding instead that the presumptive release date should be in 2043, when he is 82. Griffin, now 56, is serving a life sentence at Blackwater River Correction Facility in Milton, Florida.
The commission was required to consider Griffin’s release date because of the state’s mandatory minimum sentencing of 25 years, but was not meeting to decide whether he should be paroled now.
The commission also voted not to consider Griffin’s case again until July 2024, the maximum time it can set. A state investigator had recommended a presumptive release date of April 9, 2018.
Griffin was convicted in 1994 of killing Dr. David Gunn as he entered his clinic. Griffin shot Dunn three times in the back and yelled, “Don’t kill any more babies!” during an anti-abortion protest sponsored by Operation Rescue.
That killing, widely recognized as the first high-profile assassination of its kind, did more than just end a life. It actually “ignited a war on abortion providers,” according to Slate.
Today we think of this as the first targeted killing of an abortion doctor in America — the murder that led to passage of the FACE Act, which made it a federal crime to block access to clinics. It also established the battle lines in an ever more violent and nihilistic war against abortion providers, one that has led to the murders of nearly a dozen more people in the decades since…
Griffin’s remorselessness has made him a cult hero, birthing a form of radical activism others would emulate. For the last quarter-century, he’s inspired his followers from behind bars.
Griffin was sentenced to life in prison for the murder, but he was trying to use this hearing to get out early. He sought to be released on parole after the completion of his 25-year minimum sentence (in 2018), heavily leaning on the idea that he is “a man of faith,” according to a letter he wrote to the Florida Commission on Offender Review.
Since the age of 8 my faith has been in the Lord Jesus Christ. I attended church on mostly a regular basis since I was conceived and this has remained true during these last 25 years of my incarceration.
No one can say that Griffin is “not a true Christian.” In fact, it seems as though it is this fundamentalist Christian indoctrination that led him to ultimately murder a doctor in cold blood.
I never took up smoking or drinking and I have never done an illegal drug in my life.
That’s great, but it doesn’t change the fact that he killed a man for doing his job and helping women have safe access to legal abortions.
Griffin also insisted he would “never offend” if he were released, adding that he takes “full responsibility” for his actions. The latter claim isn’t backed up by the evidence, however, considering lead defense attorney Robert Kerrigan blamed a different Christian fundamentalist at trial.
Much of the defense case is expected to focus on John Burt, regional director of Operation Rescue. Mr. Kerrigan contends that it was Mr. Burt who was largely responsible for unbalancing his client’s mind through constant exposure to films, videos, aborted fetuses and “effigies of nurses and physicians.”
Mr. Burt, who operates a shelter for pregnant, drug-addicted and battered women in Pensacola, is a former member of the Ku Klux Klan who found religion about 15 years ago and became a minister.
Ironically enough, Griffin claimed that this minister indoctrinated him through videos and images of dead babies. While there may be some truth to that, it is clear Griffin was already primed to do what he did. It’s even clearer that he is the one who pulled the trigger, smiling at the scene of the crime.
We can rejoice that Griffin is still behind bars (for now). The parole board will consider his request again in another seven years, though, so we can’t forget what this man did and the dominoes he set in action. We have to keep the pressure on and keep writing letters to the commission to express the importance of letting him serve out his life sentence as the jury decided 25 years ago.
(Screenshot via YouTube)