On March 10, 1993 Dr. David Gunn was shot multiple times in the back while going to his job as an abortion provider. Today, his murderer, Michael Frederick Griffin, was up for parole. An outpouring of providers, clinic escorts, and allies wrote letters to the board urging them to not release a violent anti-choice extremist. The board listened. Griffin was not released, his next interview was set for 2024 (under law, the latest it could be set) and his possible release date (again, mandatory by law) is set for 2043. Although this is good news for Gunn's family, we still must stay vigilant against extremists like Griffin, who embolden others to act. But today, we've decided to print David Gunn Jr.'s full letter to the parole board, because of how delicately and fully it describes the man that David Gunn was. We think it's important to remember him.
My name is David Gunn, Jr., and I am writing on behalf of my family regarding the upcoming parole hearing for inmate Michael Griffin who is currently serving a life sentence for first degree murder in Blackwater River Correctional Facility. Mr. Griffin murdered my dad on March 10, 1993 outside of an abortion clinic in Pensacola, Florida. My dad Dr. David Gunn was the first doctor killed in the United State for performing abortions.
I appreciate those of you on the parole commission who will determine whether or not the state of Florida grants clemency to inmate Michael Griffin. Your task is unenviable seeing that your decision will impact the lives of many families, friends, and associates of both my dad Dr. David Gunn and inmate Griffin. Those who hope you return a decision in favor of clemency and parole for inmate Griffin hope one day to see their son, father, husband, friend, mentor, role-model, and/or acquaintance liberated and released from prison whereupon inmate Griffin may presumably endeavor to embark upon a reformed life with some promise of joy.
On the other hand, my family and friends have already accepted the fact nothing you decide today, or in the future, yields anything resembling even a shard of what we truly want which is our murdered loved one restored and returned to us. Honestly, it pains my family and I to write to you, prepare for the hearing, and contemplate the outcome of your decision as once again we must contemplate inmate Griffin, his actions, and the pain he caused our family. Preparing for this hearing means we must confront our loved one’s murder with all the attendant emotional trauma that accompanies tragic loss. For us, this ongoing and resurrected pain weighs heavier than any sense of relief and release and justice or victory we gain should you return the decision we seek. Continued incarceration does not reunite our family and us with our dad. A refusal to grant parole does not yield anything but the guarantee inmate Griffin remains an inmate, but that knowledge does guarantee an unrepentant and influential terrorist remains locked away where he cannot directly harm another person as he would surely do if granted parole and release. We can can settle for some sense of peace of mind though it is far short from what we truly seek. You see, years ago we accepted and understood implicitly the law of diminished returns.
We are not here to ask you to bestow on us the promise of lofty ideals such as redemption, absolution, reformation, rehabilitation, remorse, contrition, forgiveness, and freedom. We know and accept you cannot provide us that sweetness and light. We do not want and never sought a death sentence for dad’s assassin. I do not believe in the death penalty and do not wish to see inmate Griffin executed by the state. We only ask your that your body return a decision which allows conditions to persist as they are today. It is not often that the aggrieved ask nothing more of the exploiter than to continue to exist in some acceptable state of exploitation, but that is what we humbly request of your body: on the question of clemency or parole for inmate Griffin, we ask that you simply vote no. We will settle for continued incarceration and ask no more.
I recently had a conversation with Daphne Asbell of the Victims Liason’s Office. Mrs. Asbell has been kind enough to communicate with my family over the last year or so as we prepared for this hearing. I understand you must weigh a number of factors when deciding if one deserves parole and release. I was struck that each offense is scored and/or weighted differently and that this score or weight is a factor in whether or not there is condition precedent for parole and release. A simple murder, as if such a thing exists, may score one on the Parole Weighting Equation—for lack of a better term—whereas a murder committed during a robbery may score a four. A higher score yields a higher and harsher sentence and also diminishes the possibility of early release. Acts of terrorism or assassination, if the assassin or terrorist simply murders one person, may not be aggravating factors for your purposes meaning if one person assassinates another with the intention of instilling fear and terror into the larger populace, that terrorist’s assassination has the same score or weight as someone who murders a spouse “in the heat of the moment” with no premeditation or planning.
To that point, then, I hope to contextualize inmate Griffin’s actions in hopes that your commission understands the gravity and scope of your decision in this particular case with this specific inmate; further, I respectfully request you extrapolate from this the implications your decision has for, not only my family, but the state of Florida and the nation at large. I do not mean to imply one murder is any more or less horrific than the next or that my family’s suffering is in any way greater than the suffering of the next person who writes your body on behalf of their murdered loved one. Each situation, though, is compounded by other factors. While, at face value, inmate Griffin was convicted of one count of first degree murder, the aggravating factors swirling about his one murder are blatant, real, and relevant, present a clear and all to present danger in light of ongoing events, and my family hopes you consider them when deciding this case.
I think it is important that you have a sense of who my father was before inmate Griffin shot him in the back multiple times on March 10, 1993. My dad was born in Benton, Kentucky to Pete and Mae Gunn on November 16, 1945. He and his twin sister Diane followed an older brother Pete III, and were, in turn, followed by a younger sister Lilith. He was part of a large family, and as he did eventually, all the Gunn siblings married, had children of their own, and we spent a considerable amount of time together with the family when dad was alive. As it stands today, dad would be a grandfather fives times over as I have four children and my sister Wendy has one. Dad would have been a wonderful grandfather. Our children suffer from his absence.
Dad contracted polio as a child which left him with a severely disfigured leg, and he walked with a limp his entire life. The impaired leg cause significant hip and back pain and stunted his growth. He was a slight man in appearance but was full of intense courage and determination. Although he was disabled, he never pictured himself as diminished or small; rather, he did all he could to ensure his childhood was not marred and scarred by disability. He played baseball though it pained him to run the bases. He was a Boy Scout who rose to the rank of Life just shy of making Eagle. He rode bikes, water skied, swam, and eventually drove a car (even going so far as to master operating a vehicle with a manual transmission using one leg). Growing up in rural southwest Kentucky, he hunted and loved fishing. Once he decided to reach a goal, he reached it. Polio may have maimed him physically, but it did nothing but fire his spirit and determination.
Dad was an avid reader, did well in school, and had an incurable sense of curiosity. As a result of his intelligence and a caring disposition, dad’s parents pushed him toward a career in medicine. After high school, he attended and graduated from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. While a student, dad met my mom Reta and they married in January of 1968 before relocating to Lexington, Kentucky so he could begin medical school. Mom and dad welcomed their first son Charles Edward Gunn, Jr. into their lives on August 16, 1968. Unfortunately, their budding family was interrupted by its first tragedy when Chucky was killed in a car accident in March of the following year. I was born in October, 1970. Dad graduated medical school in 1973, and the family relocated to Nashville where dad stared his residency in obstetrics and gynecology at Vanderbilt Hospital.
While still a resident at Vanderbilt learning his craft, my sister Wendy was born in April, 1975. Dad’s ability as a doctor was recognized quickly by the physicians overseeing his residency. He received honors as a resident and was on the path toward an enviable career as a doctor specializing in obstetrics and gynecology.
Dad was a generous and humble young doctor, and his desire to truly help and improve the lives of his patients influenced his decision to move the family from the suburbs of Nashville to Brewton, Alabama in 1977. Brewton is a tiny, poor, paper mill town with a population of about 6,000 people just north of the Florida panhandle. When dad and his would be partner opted to open a practice in Brewton which was served by a hospital with no real obstetrics facilities, I am sure many considered the decision ill advised. Why would two promising young physicians leave cosmopolitan Nashville with its pre-eminent regional medical facilities for a backwater town in southernmost Alabama, his peers and colleagues must have asked. Dad’s answer was simple, he wanted to serve a community suffering from one of the highest infant mortality rates in the country. He and his partner desired to serve the underserved. They wanted to save lives.
Dr. Clay Newsome and and Dr. David Gunn opened their OB/GYN practice in Brewton, Alabama in 1977. Both young doctors were dedicated to their patients, and they tirelessly served their community. Dad was never one to shy away from engaging his patients, and I remember many nights doing my homework while he returned patient calls from the dining room table. Patients loved my dad not simply because he provided them excellent and quality care, they appreciated his authenticity. As an obstetrician, he helped pioneer a technique for delivering breach babies which significantly mitigated or eliminated the need for cesarean section deliveries. His technique was published in medical journals and is still used to this day.
While pre-natal care and labor and delivery were his primary areas of practice, dad was dedicated to serving all of his patients‘ health care needs. To that end, just four years after abortion was legalized in the United States, with an understanding that patients in need of abortion services deserve a compassionate, patient, understanding, non-judgmental, and empathetic doctor as much as those who do not, dad undertook to learn and develop the skills needed to provide his patients that option. Eventually, he started seeing patients at a clinic in Pensacola due to a shortage of doctors wiling to provide abortion services in the deep south.
During the late 70s and 80s, dad’s practice was primarily obstetric in nature. He delivered countless babies over almost 20 years in the field. My sister and I both accompanied him when he completed hospital rounds, and we each witnessed childbirth at an early age. After moving from Brewton to Eufaula, Alabama in 1983, dad continued to serve his community via a successful OB/GYN practice. He also agreed to provide abortion services to a clinic in Columbus, Georgia when the owner called and asked for his help. They had no shortage of patients but lacked a committed doctor. As was his nature, dad answered the call for help and started commuting the 120 round trip miles to Columbus, Georgia on Saturdays—that is after working a full schedule in labor and delivery—to serve a constituency in need.
I was 14 or 15 when dad approached me one day and told me I would be driving him to work on in Columbus the following Saturday. After years on his feet delivering babies with one good leg, he suffered excruciating back pain which made driving long distances uncomfortable especially following a full week of his normal duties. When we left for Columbus that Saturday, I’m sure I asked why he was seeing patients on the weekend in another city. He must have gave provided a satisfying, and long, answer. As we discussed abortion, I do not remember feeling any sense of controversy or misgiving. I knew what abortion was, knew it was legal, knew women needed them, knew girls who had them, and understood it was my dad’s job to serve his patients’ needs without judgment. It never occurred to me that he was doing dangerous work or that his decision to help this constituency of patients was one that would ultimately lead to his death. I was familiar with abortion but was naively ignorant of any controversy regarding the subject.
My education in the inherent danger of women’s reproductive care started when we arrived at the clinic for the first time as we were greeted by one lone protestor wearing a sandwich board of offal masquerading as a fetus—a false image used to intimidate, shame, and torture the patients who passed him on their way to and from the clinic. While dad saw patients that day, I talked with some of the staff and learned of acid attacks, clinic bombings, and other acts of terrorism clinic staff and doctors encountered across the country on a daily basis. As we drove home that first night, I was shaken but dad was calm and reasoned. He assured me he was safe and there was nothing to fear.
He and I, sometimes accompanied by a sampling of my high school friends, made these weekly drives throughout my time in high school. Our regular drive to Columbus soon evolved to include trips to Montgomery, Alabama (another 180 mile round trip) on alternating weekends. Dad liked to talk and the long drives provided him a captive audience and an ample platform. Though sometimes tedious, confrontational, unpleasant, and/or stressful, these drives provided me some of my fondest memories, and driving a car for any real distance invariably reminds me of him and our road trips together.
Shortly after I moved to Birmingham for college, dad started to spend more time on the road. He started each week from Eufaula, drove to Columbus, Georgia, then headed to Montgomery, Alabama, drove down to Mobile, Alabama, and ended the week in Pensacola, Florida only to start anew the next week. He logged approximately 1000 miles per week maintaining this burdensome schedule. He was so committed to his job and patients that he traveled six days a week seeing patients in at least four different cities. When I asked why he maintained such a rigorous schedule, he told me people would suffer without care if he refused. As the 80s transitioned into the 90s, as the culture wars intensified, and as anti-abortion protests became more aggressive and confrontational, providing abortion services to women in the thick of the Bible-belt became dad’s sole occupation.
Though my dad was committed to his practice, there were others who were as equally committed to ending it. In the last year of dad’s life, anti-abortion zealots started a campaign of harassment and intimidation designed to drive him away from abortion services and out of their towns. These terrorists, and they are terrorists by anyone’s definition, circulated wanted posters adorned with my dad’s picture, his address, his phone numbers, and his work schedule all over the region including his home town, offices, and around my sister’s high school. He feared he was being stalked and followed as he drove alone city to city. I later learned this fear drove him to take alternate routes as he traveled alone from city to city. This was before cell phones were widely available. It is fairly sparse and desolate between Eufaula and Montgomery from Pensacola to Mobile. Anything could happen…
There were threats of violence phoned into the various clinics where he worked. He began to carry guns in an attempt to regain some sense of safety and peace. He, and his patients, faced a phalanx of hateful antagonists daily whose anger and hatred were inflamed by anti-abortion organizations and their leaders. Groups such as Operation Rescue published manuals instructing their adherents in surveillance techniques, offered advice on legal ways to harass and intimidate, and organized clinic sieges in an effort to further their cause and incite hatred and violence. Though these zealous terrorists attempted to silence him, dad refused to stop seeing patients who relied on him for their healthcare needs.
Dad lived under constant threat of violence for years. On January 22, 1993, roughly two months before his assassination, dad pulled into work confronted by another angry mob. Today, he must have thought, I am going to protest back. Dad greeted protesters outside a clinic in Montgomery with an impromptu solo performance of Happy Birthday to You celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade. Next, he produced a large boom box, adjusted the volume to 11, and played Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” in their direction while he sang along. His protest generated some local press, his ongoing dedication to women’s health began to draw national attention, and the ire and desperation of his foes intensified.
At this time, Pensacola, Florida became the hot bed of anti-abortion activity. A local self-styled reverend and former Ku Klux Klan leader named John Burt headed the regional offices of Rescue America. Burt purchased a small tract of land adjacent to one of Pensacola’s women’s clinics where dad worked which was used to stage protests designed to intimidate and harass all who visited. Burt went so far as to build scaffolding next to the clinic’s privacy fencing so his follower and he could more easily confront the patients and staff. Burt knew of my dad and hated his occupation. Dad remained undaunted.
I last saw my dad on Monday, March 7, 1993. He spent the weekend with me in Birmingham and enjoyed a rare weekend away from work. We grilled (he cooked a mean steak), drank some beer, watched his beloved Kentucky Wildcats play a basketball game, and enjoyed our time together. As we talked face to face for the last time that Monday morning, dad told me a strange man approached him the previous Thursday or Friday as he was leaving Pensacola to come visit me. He said to me the man in question approached him and repeated his name with an odd cadence, “Dr. Gunn…Dr. Gunn…Dr. Gunn,” or something similar. I asked him if he felt threatened. He assured me he did not. I asked him if he was scared or feared someone would harm him as I was genuinely concerned for his safety by this point. He made light of the situation, said something flippant about the person confronting him, assured me there was no need to worry, and seemed sincere when he said he did not think those who opposed abortion would actually harm him. I was not entirely comforted but understood his decision. He drove away.
Meanwhile, inmate Griffin spent the weekend planning I suppose.
I know very little of inmate Griffin other than little I have read over the years. As 1992 close and 1993 began, inmate Griffin was a married 31 or 32 year old father of two young girls. From what I understand, this inmate had a history of violent behavior, was terminated from one job due to his ill temper, faced charges of spousal abuse, and his ongoing marital issues indicated he was headed for divorce. In an attempt to save their marriage, the Griffins sought counseling services from a lay “reverend” named John Burt. I do not know how anti-abortion activism figured into Mr. Burt’s marriage counseling services, but the record indicates Burt spent considerable time preaching the sins of abortion to the Griffins. Mr. Burt inundated the Griffins with antiabortion propaganda and invited them into his organization.
Inmate Griffin became a regular at Rescue America meetings. Shortly before he assassinated my father, he attended a funeral Burt organized for what he represented was an aborted fetus. Mr. Burt, at this point, began carrying an effigy of my dad which was labeled Dr. Gunn and was displayed prominently at his residence. As Griffin’s traditional family was disintegrating, a dark perversion of a family had its genesis.
Faced with a failing marriage, a violent past, and no reliable vocation of any sort from what I understand, inmate Griffin must have struggled with feelings of inadequacy and failure. Though raised as part of an upper middle class family, the son of a dentist, inmate Griffin had to come to terms with the fact the privilege and power afforded one in similar circumstances that he once enjoyed was rapidly dissipating. Perhaps this struggle to regain relevance, importance, and power drove inmate Griffin to commit, in his mind anyway, one great act of sacrifice and heroism that would most assuredly grant him the respect, adoration, and significance he felt he deserved? Griffin’s statements seem to support this conclusion.
What is certain is on March 10, 1993, as my dad was walking toward the door of a Pensacola women’s clinic, Michael Griffin emerged from a hedgerow where he was hiding with all the discipline and cold calculation of a trained assassin, and pumped three pistol rounds into my dad’s back at point blank range after yelling, “don’t kill anymore babies.” Afterwards, Griffin casually walked to the front of the clinic, approached a police officer who was breaking up a John Burt/Rescue America led anti-abortion protest, and calmly said, “I shot a man back there” in reference to my dying dad. Applause erupted when the Rescue America crowd realized a doctor was killed. Don Treshman, the national head of the organization, said of Griffin’s actions, “While Gunn’s death is unfortunate, it’s also true that quite a number of babies’ lives will be saved.” He, then, promptly organized a legal defense fund for the assassin.
18 months after inmate Griffin’s assassinated my dad, he was on trial for and convicted of first degree murder. The prosecution did not seek the death penalty for Griffin stating the murder lacked sufficient aggravating circumstances to warrant or justify a charge of death. I do not support or believe in the death penalty as I stated earlier. I never have. I did not want a death sentence for this inmate; however, I have never understood how anyone can view the circumstances leading to my father’s death as somehow devoid of aggravating factors. Inmate Griffin is nothing if not a religious terrorist who assassinated a doctor for providing a service the inmate felt was immoral. By his action, inmate Griffin sought to intimidate and instill terror in others who provide or seek this same service; moreover, this inmate sought to influence others to follow his lead and take upon themselves the role of executioner of those who do not conform to and whose points of view conflict with the suppressive, patriarchal, militantly theocratic world view of Griffin and those who follow him. If the above are not aggravating factors, what are?
Griffin’s action opened the door for others to come forward who felt his act of terrorism was justified. Shortly after my dad’s assassination, Paul Hill, a local Pensacola Presbyterian Minister, and other leaders in the anti-abortion movement issued a chilling statement regarding, what they described as, Defensive Action:
We, the undersigned, declare the justice of taking all godly action necessary to defend innocent human life including the use of force. We proclaim that whatever force is legitimate to defend the life of a born child is legitimate to defend the life of an unborn child. We assert that if Michael Griffin did in fact kill David Gunn, his use of lethal force was justifiable provided it was carried out for the purpose of defending the lives of unborn children. Therefore, he out to be acquitted of the charges against him.
In the view of Paul Hill and the signatories of this statement, Mr. Griffin was not a murderer, an assassin, a terrorist, or a threat, Mr. Griffin was a hero who saved innocent life and for that he deserved acquittal.
Within a little over a year of issuing this statement, Paul Hill, a Griffin disciple and leader of the Defensive Action call to arms, made good on his word and killed Dr. John Britton my dad’s replacement at another Pensacola area clinic. Hill also targeted Dr. Britton’s companions Lt. Col. James Herman (ret.) and his wife June Herman. Hill succeeded in killing Lt. Col. Herman while Mrs. Herman survived after suffering serious gunshot wounds. The state of Florida eventually executed Paul Hill for two counts of first degree murder. Mr. Griffin should be considered an accomplice to these crimes if in sprit only given the reverence his immitators bestowed upon him.
Griffin’s violent legacy spawned other progeny who followed their hero’s lead and eventually took the lives of many other innocent people. Most recently, on November 27, 2015, James Dear killed three and also wounded nine people in an attack on a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood. Dear cites inmate Griffin and Paul Hill as his heroes and reveals they influenced his decision to act. Anti-abortion terror organizations continue to lionize Griffin, and The Army of God encourage those who share their hegemonic view to communicate inmate Griffin to this date. Inmate Griffin wrote a statement for The Army of God. Given their stance on and support of Paul Hill’s Defensive Action statement, it cannot be argued Mr. Griffin is ashamed of or seeks forgiveness for His association with terror organizations has not diminished and neither has his influence upon them.
Chapter 947 of the Code of the State of Florida establishes the Florida Commission on Offender Review. Section 947.18 of Chapter 947 outlines the Conditions of Parole as follows:
No person shall be placed on parole merely as a reward for good conduct or efficient performance of duties assigned in prison. No person shall be placed on parole until and unless the commission finds that there is reasonable probability that, if the person is placed on parole, he or she will live and conduct himself or herself as a respectable and law-abiding person and that the person’s release will be compatible with his or her own welfare and the welfare of society.
Therefore, it seems important to not only consider the nature of the crime committed but to also weigh whether or not the inmate demonstrates the characteristics of someone suited for release; moreover, one must considered whether or not current conditions in society at large are markedly different when compared to conditions the inmate experienced previously that were instrumental in shaping and served as motivating factors for the crime which led to sentencing in the first place. What I mean to say is, if the inmate is released, are conditions such, that all things being equal, he is as likely as not to repeat the action that landed him in prison initially? If the answer is yes, is that not a deciding factor against parole? The statute above indicates the answer is clearly yes. It would be illogical and folly to think otherwise. Lastly, it is germane to the question of release, when considering whether or not a potential parolee’s release is compatible with “his or her own welfare and the welfare of society,” to determine if parole of a particular inmate has implications for others who may share the prospective parolee’s myopic worldview thus influencing others to violence.
On the first and most important point, it is painfully obvious that inmate Griffin is devoid of any and all remorse or contrition; rather, Mr. Griffin believes his actions delivered countless innocent lives from a holocaust like fate at the hands of a wretched and depraved serial child murderer. What is worse is he believes his actions were sanctioned by his great God almighty. These beliefs enable Mr. Griffin to act with impunity and to completely absolve himself from any and all guilt. He, then, is the misunderstood and aggrieved victim who did nothing but obey the mandate bestowed upon him by his God to smite his unholy enemy. He stated as much to an interviewer for Frontline Australia a mere seven years ago. When asked if he considered himself a domestic terrorist, Mr. Griffin replied, “I am not a domestic terrorist. The only people who should be in fear and terror are the abortion doctors. Like I said, they have to have a reckoning one day with God.”
We know what type of reckoning Griffin has in mind. It is the same reckoning he delivered unto my dad. Griffin made this heinous remark 17 years into his sentence for first degree murder after having ample time to consider the harshness of his actions. These are not the words of someone, then, who plans to “conduct himself or herself as a respectable and law-abiding person” as required by state law. Certainly, then, we can conclude Mr. Griffin is ineligible for parole.
In this same interview, when asked why he had the right to assassinate my dad, Mr. Griffin said, “um…well. We are all commanded to protect the innocent children. I just accepted that responsibility, I guess.” Statements like these demonstrate how Griffin truly views his actions and are clear indicators he remains a danger to himself and others and is just as likely to repeat his crimes as he was the day he shot my dad in the back 24 years ago.
As to the second question, is Griffin, a remorseless assassin, likely to face markedly different causes and conditions than those he experienced 24 years ago and which helped inform and motivate his behavior? The answer is, in simplest terms, a resounding no. When Mr. Griffin assassinated my dad 24 years ago, he lived in and interacted with a world that is just as polarized and divided then as it is today. In many respects, conditions today are more divisive and polarizing than they were 24 years ago. We remain divided by class, race, and lifestyle. A large section of the population still view abortion as immoral. Abortion services are more restricted and limited than they were 24 years ago.
Though there have been significant advances in LGBTQ rights, many people, then as now, wrongly consider those lifestyles aberrant and abhorrent. Sexism and misogyny are as rampant today as they were 24 years ago. A cursory search of the internet illustrates people in Griffin’s movement regard him as a hero, encourage others to follow his lead, and would celebrate his release as an affirmation of their perverse ideology. Would Griffin spurn this reverence, or would he revel in and welcome it? In light of his remorseless comments and actions, it is impossible to argue the former. Given the above, is it wrong to assume Mr. Griffin would be as likely as not to act on behalf of his God upon release just as he did 24 years ago? If released today, it is erroneous to conclude Mr. Griffin would encounter an anti-abortion movement any less hostile to his murderous actions. In fact, in light of the way he is deified by many in the anti-abortion movement, it would be foolhardy to think he would not immediately undertake to assassinate another abortion provider. Quite the contrary, it would be negligent to conclude otherwise.
If Griffin’s lack of remorse, guilt, and contrition coupled with his release to and interaction with a world in which current conditions indicate it is more likely than not that he kills again are insufficient to support continued incarceration in and of themselves, then perhaps we look concurrently at and reflect upon the effects of early release on society at large. If you parole the first person to murder a doctor for providing his patients a legal service the assassin finds morally reprehensible, are you setting a dangerous precedent? Are you proving to the world and sending a strong message that the state of Florida will not tolerate acts of domestic terrorism? Will paroling Griffin influence others to act similarly in hopes they too walk away after serving only 24 years in prison? Is the lesson, then, to make sure you assassinate early, say by no later than 24, knowing chances are you are more likely than not released at or around the tender age of 48? It is illogical to reach any other conclusion but that parole and clemency for this particular inmate will have disastrous effects on the lives of countless people who engage in professions or live lifestyles terrorists like inmate Griffin disagree with or find offensive. Any argument to the contrary does not sufficiently apply the facts to current conditions.
A vote for parole, then, is a vote for open ended attacks against others who work in the same field as my dad. One unambiguous fact is glaringly obvious, Griffin’s assassination of my dad proved to be highly motivational and influential to others who mimicked his behavior and killed more doctors, nurses, staff, and patients.
When my dad was killed 24 years ago, it was fairly shocking news, to lay people especially who had no idea how violent the anti-abortion movement had become, that a anti-abortion terrorist murdered a doctor. Now, when someone influenced by Griffin, assassinates another doctor or attacks another clinic, it is as if it is an expected outcome. Now it is as though doctors, nurses, clinic owners, and patients should just get used to living in terror under fear of their lives and the lives of their families. A vote for parole for Griffin only hastens our collective acceptance of life under threat of domestic terrorism on the one hand while simultaneously telling anyone associated with abortion services their lives are of less import than those who intend to, and in Griffin’s case did, do them harm.
In light of the above, considering the grave nature of inmate Griffin’s actions compounded by the aggravating factors surrounding this particular inmate’s cowardly actions, and, finally, since inmate Griffin’s current attitudes, actions, and behaviors land for outside Florida’s conditions of parole (Section 947.18), I have to say I found it quite distressing to learn the initial interviewer recommended parole for the inmate. I do not understand how the person who completed the inmate’s initial interview recommended he begin the process of conditional release. What is more, I was shocked that the interviewer abjectly failed to get even the basic facts of the assassination correct. The interviewer inaccurately writes the following:
The victim parked his vehicle next to the employee entrance and exited his vehicle. At that time, the subject approached the victim, produced a handgun, pointed the gun at close range, and shot the victim in the chest approximately three times.
Inmate Griffin shot my dad in the back, not in the chest as the interview states. Perhaps the interviewer wrote down the inmate’s account for purposes of reporting only? I do not know where this account originated as it is not based on or grounded in any established fact. Regardless, when deciding whether or not to release a murderer, it occurs to me that you must have a thorough understanding of the crime in order to determine if conditions precedent exist for parole. At the very least one should not depend on the assassin to provide accurate details of actions that, if reported accurately, are detrimental to his cause of clemency and early release.
Aside from a brief and inaccurate description of the events of that day in the initial interview, I do not see any mention or expression of remorse, contrition, guilt, or regret on the inmate’s part. Nowhere does it address whether or not the interviewer and the inmate discussed the murder other than a brief, and inaccurate, recounting of the fact Griffin shot my dad. I hate to belabor this point, but I do not understand how one can advocate for parole and release of a prisoner who lacks remorse, contrition, guilt, and/or regret.
The interviewer notes the inmate completed a number of classes, received good reviews regarding his work detail, and has not received any disciplinary reports over the past 24 years. The interview reads as if, after one takes another person’s life, simply completing correspondence courses, avoiding prison discipline, and participating in a work detail are the only requirements for early release. This assumption, though, is in direct contraction to the Conditions of Parole which read as follows:
No person shall be placed on parole merely as a reward for good conduct or efficient performance of duties assigned in prison.
It is insulting to read the interview’s conclusion and recommendation that inmate Griffin be considered for parole in 2018 when the inmate has met not one condition of parole as outlined in Florida law. At the very least, you would think a potential parolee must admit guilt, express remorse, and ask for forgiveness before receiving a recommendation for early release.
When I contemplate all that has transpired over the past 24 years, the first thing that strikes me is how much has happened over what seems a short period of time. We all experience that feeling of every subsequent year passing faster than the previous. I have no comfort knowing inmate Griffin must share this same experience. I look at what my family lost and the real pain inflicted on us by this inmate’s actions. I wrestle with the fact Mr. Griffin could be free by the time he reaches 56, and that means he could reasonably expect to have another 20 years to experience life on the outside with his family which is just four years shy of how much time my family lost with dad as of this writing which seems to me to be a patently unjust outcome. While Griffin could watch from afar as his children grew, while he could enjoy their company these past 24 years, while he could write to them on birthdays and other milestones like graduations, weddings, and births, our family was robbed of all those kindnesses by his callous actions.
My dad missed his daughter’s graduation from high school and culinary school, her marriage, and the birth of his youngest grandson. He never knew of my marriage, the birth of his first grandson, the birth of his only granddaughter, was unaware of divorce, and has not met my current wife and step-children. He has not seen any of us grow and we missed growing with him.
Additionally, dad never knew the fate of his parents, and they lost his care and company in their final days. He does not know who in his expanded family joined him in untimely death and who survives into old age.
My sons at least had the opportunity to know the love of one grandfather. My daughter has no concept of what that is and how much it means.
A tragic and untimely death brings with it a lifetime of second guessing and regret for the survivors. You are haunted by what if and if only. You are left with vague and temporary reminders which fade slowly over time until all that remains are shadows of cherished memory. You wonder if you remember things as they were. You lose the person once the day they die. You lose them a thousand times more as days become years and recollection fades or becomes suspect. What is more, you never fully overcome grief as you are constantly faced with reminders of one of the worst days of your life.
Resurrected grief’s impact is unrelenting in our case given the public nature of our loss, the fact it is a loss connected to a “controversial” subject, and the fact we are constantly confronted with inmate Griffin and will be regardless of this body’s decision. We lost our father in public, grieved on camera, and we must constantly relive the event when others families lose someone to anti-abortion terrorism. What is worse, we have lived the past 24 years with the knowledge we would one day, in the not too distant future, be forced to reckon with and advocate for justice for our murdered father and punishment for his cowardly assassin yet again. Certainly, if you decide in our favor, we will likely do it all over again. I cannot adequately express the burden, shame, and pain it causes to wish pain and suffering on another person no matter how much they deserve it. It is karmic suicide. It is draining. It affects all relationships and reactions to others. You become hardened, cynical, and can succumb to misery and hate if the grief is not tempered.
All of this pain and anger is magnified and amplified by the fact a large portion of the country believes it was morally just for inmate Griffin to murder a member of our family. I doubt many people can understand how isolating it can be when it seems the dominant moral structure where you live condones, or is ambivalent to, the murder of person. I have endured many 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. We attended memorial services for our family member that were picketed by a soon-to-be murderer. We have been at services where we received FBI warnings concerning potential threats on our lives. 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. What is more, grief and resurrected grief yield bitterness which impacts everyone around you, can lead to failed relationships, struggles with substances, and severe depression if not channeled productively. 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 day.
I fear somewhere in this letter I lost the spirit of my dad to biography, polemics, and digressions. I was 22 when he died. My sister was 17. He, like us all, was a complicated person with absolute good qualities as well as personal demons. He was a good son, brother, father, friend and fisherman. He had a keen sense of humor and loved to laugh. He introduced me to all the dad western movies, the music of Bob Dylan, Buddy Holly, and others, and made sure I never wanted for anything much as a kid. He was a good teacher, a somewhat skilled listener, and was truly interested in the wellbeing of his children.
Overall, though, he was an excellent and compassionate doctor who cared deeply for his patients, and he never missed an opportunity to help those in need. When one of three women are likely to have an abortion during their lifetime, it is imperative to have doctors like my dad who have the courage to persist under threat of death while never allowing the patient to see anything other than compassion absent of shame. Dad tried to leave the world a better place than he found it. There is no way to account for the people whose lives he impacted for the better just as there is no way to estimate the lives he could have helped had he lived.
He served the women of Alabama, Georgia, and Florida dutifully and never turned away a patient on Saturday who needed his services even if they were protesting him in front of the clinic the Friday before. It is the loss of that unconditional tolerance that troubles me the most. It is what people like inmate Griffin want to kill in everyone as it strengthens their perverse reverence of fear, hate and dominance. It is for Griffin’s assassination of tolerance alone he deserves no quarter. It is for my dad’s assassination that he must stay incarcerated.