Shots Fired! Griffin's Trial in Pensacola
First there is the town; suddenly transformed into "Little Beirut;" SWAT teams are stationed with telescopes and rifles atop taller buildings around the courthouse and at the top of the modern-day fortress that houses Michael Griffin's judge and jury. If it were possible to see them under the same strength magnifying glass in which they are scrutinizing passersby, it seems apparent that radio gear; sophisticated long-range walkie-talkies must lay close at hand. Almost miraculously others of their sort appear on the ground when people of the pro-life persuasion are walking by. Ostensibly, they have been ordered forward by those scanning the sidewalks from on high. Throughout the first week of proceedings there are complaints from one or another of the anti-abortion faction. One man is arrested on a trespass warrant from hundreds of miles away.
The courthouse, set on two acres of ground, is surrounded by metal barricades. Police in regular sky blue uniform shirts guard the entrances where barriers have been placed in funnel fashion leading in toward the doors to the building. Most are allowed to enter with hardly a glance, but a few, those suspected of having an adverse opinion of abortion are scrutinized with suspicion. By day two it has become common-place for those who are observed with the Rev. Paul Hill to be ordered to produce identification. Photos are taken along with an address.
Each day, as the jury selection process continues, is heavy with tension. Police and protesters are engaged in a silent war where armed officers attempt to bully activists -- those willing to carry a sign -- away from the courthouse. A scant number are willing to brave the harrassment; even an unspoken threat of arrest, in order to suggest that Griffin might be justified in shooting an abortionist to save his victims. Every day it seems there is at least one episode that pits despotic police against determined pro-lifer.
Moving in to the courthouse, there are security precautions yet to be observed. A metal detector screeches for one and is silent for another as spectators walk through with hesitation. Men in uniform, guns and walkie-talkies fastened to their hips can be seen in first one corner and then another.
Armed with nothing more than a purse, or perhaps a camera, pen and paper, observers of the trial huddle around the doors of elevators. They speak in hushed tones, uncomfortable, wondering what imaginary line they might cross that would bring the full force of "security" down upon them. Tension inside is as tangible as outside where long range scopes follow your every move, but the jury is being selected, it is important to be here.
Jury selection is observed on a 30 inch color television screen. All of the actors are hidden from view behind closed doors. Apparently there is some concern that jurors may feel awkward and inhibited in being asked questions in open court. Like the abortion "right to privacy" which has spawned this trial, their personal privacy supercedes the normal system of justice. Each of them are assigned a number, lest their name be attached to an unpopular view. In this setting of diminished accountability 98 men and women are interviewed.
The camera which is taping interviews is carefully turned so that at no time are we allowed to see who is being interrogated. A voice proceeding from one end of a long conference room table is all that identifies the person.
Remarkable, most of those in the jury pool have read little about the case to be tried. Those who have assure the court that they are able to listen to the evidence presented in an unbiased fashion. One of them is asked about her perception of Michael Griffin's attempt to be his own lawyer and later to try to plead an insanity defense.
"How do you feel about him trying to do that," Eddins asks, referring to the effort to forego using a bar-licensed attorney.
"That would be ridiculous!" she answers with finality. Further, she claims that "too many people get off on an insanity defense." However, these issues wouldn't affect her judgment. "Everyone has the right to help himself," she explains.
Anothor one, juror #171 has worked with two physicians listed as possible prosecution witnesses. She has also worked with the wife of Sgt. Hollingsworth who is scheduled to testify against Michael Griffin. Her warm relationship with these people, she says, would not cause her to give their testimony more weight than that of any other witness. All of the jury-pick process proceeds in similar fashion.
Michael Griffin is sitting, last seat, tucked into the back corner of the room. He listens attentively, calm, but there are dark lines underneath his eyes. The poor color quality on the television screen gives his skin a green cast. The man to his left has pulled his chair forward and turned away so that his right shoulder and back are facing Griffin. It serves to increase the sense that he is isolated, alone and almost ignored in the midst of a room full of people.
Potential jurors, one by one, are asked by Griffin's attorney, Bill Eddins about their knowledge of cults and brainwashing. One juror, asked if he believed it was possible for a person to "snap" or experience a sudden mental break, replied, "Most of those people work at the post office." It is the only light moment throughout seven days of jury selection.
Prosecutor, James Murray follows the same line of questioning as on previous days, focusing on the juror's view of the Bible and whether-or-not they felt a conflict between those views and Florida law. All jurors state that they have no "Christian beliefs" or "personal philosophies" which conflict with laws in the United States or the state of Florida. It is an unspoken agreement between "officers of the court" and jurors that moral squeemishness over abortion will have no place in this trial. More precisely, they all could have stated that they have "no Christian beliefs," end of quote.
By late Sunday afternoon all jurrors -- twelve with two alternates -- are selected and sworn in. Their oath is to uphold the laws of the state of Florida, and as each indicates their fealty there is the echo of "We have no king but Ceasar." Though several gave indication of Christian influence (one participated in Life Chain) during the interview process, all are in agreement that the state of Florida is now their "higher power."
Monday, day eight of the trial proceedings, finally brings all parties into the courtroom; Judge Parnham, prosecutor Murray, defense attorneys Eddins and Kerrigan, nine women and five men for the jury, and Michael Griffin.
Griffin's entrance is quiet and goes nearly unobserved. He is noticably thinner than old newsroom file photos. For most of the trial his eyes will be downcast or turned to the witness stand, but now in this first moment his eyes lock onto a woman in the second row of spectators. He smiles in a fleeting manner, the expression moving softly over his face like a gentle ripple, there and then gone. It is the only time he smiles throughout 13 grueling days. Whoever she is, Michael Griffin is encouraged to see that she has come.
It is on this first day that the court assembles as one that we see Michael Griffin's greatest liability. It is not the accumulated testimony of prosecution witnesses or photos of the site where Gunn was finally stopped from killing babies. It is the combined talents and lack of integrity of his defense team.
Kerrigan steps to center stage for opening statements. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the circus act of Kerrigan and Eddins will try to juggle a strange bi-furcated defense. Simply put, it is that Michael Griffin did not fire the bullets that brought down a baby-killer. Their first goal is to attempt to cast a shadow of doubt in this area. When they fail to juggle such a weak defense, their plan is to suggest that, 'if you don't buy the notion that Griffin has been framed, and you think he pulled the trigger, maybe we can sell you on the idea that he was brainwashed.'
It is a defense so flawed that first year law students are left scratching their skulls in wonder. In the end it is destined to arouse more sympathy for the state's attorney whose witnesses are being brow-beaten in a vain effort to impeach their testimony. With an accumulation of evidence and testimony against him, there is the growing desire to lunge forward and shout for Griffin to take the stand and just tell the truth.
Along with opening statements there is a motion put forward by Murray, the prosecutor, to limit evidence that the defense might be inclined to present. To satisfy the court that Griffin's team is not entitled to show the jury films and literature about abortion, he cites previous case-law. Griffin saw the films for the first time approximately 60 days before David Gunn was shot. To delay 60 days before acting out against this serial baby-killer disqualifies a "heat of passion" defense, he argues.
Kerrigan responds with little zeal that his client is entitled to the defense and to the evidence in question. It is an effort so weak that there is the sense that Judge Parnham will indeed limit the evidence in favor of the prosecution. But, for reasons that are not clear, Parnham rules against limiting the evidence. On opening day it appears that the jury will be allowed to watch film footage that might be said to have motivated Griffin to stop David Gunn from killing any more.
The verdict is in. Jurors have been out for little over two and one half hours; not a good indication.
By a vote of 12-nothing, Michael Griffin has been declared guilty of murder in the first degree. One juror, #-- -- , is crying as she is polled for her vote. No doubt she is the one who stated during voire dire that she stood in the Life Chain just the year before. Her tears don't reflect remorse that she has joined with the ungodly in punishing a righteous man; she is crying because she has only now been convinced that ABORTION [doesn't] KILL REAL CHILDREN. Her vote reflects the mediocrity of the "pro-life" movement that has spawned her and thousands of others who believe that their best in defending the helpless unborn is to spend an hour or two in a once-a-year ritual protest.
Pensacola, FL--Only hours into the first day of jury selection in the Michael Griffin trial police arrested anti-abortion protester, Jacob Miller.
Miller was apprehended while taking photos near the courthouse. He was wanted in Tampa on a trespass warrant from 1989. Authorities held him in solitary confinement for two days before allowing him to place a call outside the jail to locate an attorney. He was denied bail and transferred over a two day period with state prison inmates to the county in which the warrant had been issued. After appearing in court in Tampa, Miller was released on a $100 bond with a court date in early March.
Pensacola, FL-- While most anti-abortion groups have sought to distance themselves from the controversy over the killing of abortionist David Gunn, former Presbyterian minister Paul Hill has declared that the shooting was a "justifiable homicide." In a "Defensive Action" statement, Hill and approximately thirty other pastors and leaders in the anti-abortion movement have called for the acquital of Michael Griffin, accused of killing Gunn on March 10, 1993.
Despite the presence of Pensacola police and a large number of Escambia County Tactical Unit officers (SWAT team), Hill and others protested throughout the morning of the second day of jury selection. Signs ranged from "Abortion kills babies" to "Gunn Control," intended according to Hill to convey the idea that "justice was served" as a result of the shooting death of the abortionist.