The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 25.0°F | Mostly Cloudy

Salvi Gets Life Without Parole In Two Abortion Clinic Murders

By Christopher B. Daly
Special to The Washington Post

John C. Salvi III, the troubled young man who went on a shooting rampage at two suburban abortion clinics, was found guilty of murder Monday and sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Despite his lawyers' attempts to prove him insane, Salvi, 24, was convicted of all charges against him: two counts of first-degree murder and five counts of armed assault with intent to murder, all arising from his Dec. 20, 1994, attack on the two clinics. He was quickly taken to state prison.

The attack was the worst violence against an abortion clinic in U.S. history and capped a decade of assaults on the clinics and their staff across the country. A federal grand jury in Alexandria, Va., probing the violence concluded in January that there was no nationwide conspiracy to commit violence against abortion clinics or personnel.

The verdicts against Salvi brought an emotional climax to a lengthy trial spanning more than 100 witnesses over six weeks in Norfolk County Superior Court. Salvi, 24, remained characteristically aloof, staring ahead and rarely blinking.

Cries of anguish were heard in court from the families of the victims - Shannon Lowney, 25, and Lee Ann Nichols, 38. Their parents, brothers, sisters, fiancs and friends wept, as they have many times during trial.

Salvi shot the two women and wounded five other people during his attack on the two clinics in the Boston suburb of Brookline. Witnesses testified during the trial that he had shouted, "This is what you get! You should pray the rosary," as he fired 10 bullets into Nichols. Salvi was arrested the next day in Norfolk, Va., after he began shooting at an abortion clinic there.

Just before sentencing, Salvi, who several defense psychiatrists called a paranoid schizophrenic, got his long-sought chance to address the court. He showed no remorse and continued to request the chance to conduct interviews with the news media to discuss his views about a purported anti-Catholic conspiracy.

"As you know, I haven't pled guilty though I am against abortion," Salvi said. "My position is pro-welfare state, pro-Catholic labor union and, basically, pro-life."

Moments later, Judge Barbara Dortch-Okara authorized the clerk to read out the sentences. Salvi was ordered to serve two consecutive life prison terms, followed by 18-20 years for the assault convictions. Massachusetts does not have a death penalty. Under state law, a first-degree murder conviction sparks an automatic appeal.

Nikki Nichols Gamble, the president of Planned Parenthood of Massachusetts, which operates one of the two clinics attacked by Salvi, said the verdict "will help to de-escalate the climate of fear and violence that has surrounded the services we provide."

"Justice was done," said Mark Nichols, a brother of Lee Ann Nichols. His mother, Ruth Ann Nichols, was allowed to deliver a victim impact statement to the court. "Without hesitation, I hope you have sheer misery every day of your life, as you have brought all the families," she said, addressing Salvi. "I request and hope that every Dec. 30 they put you in solitary confinement."

Salvi's lead defense attorney, J.W. Carney Jr., indicated he will appeal the verdict, based in part on the judge's refusal to allow Salvi to testify. In the closing moments of the trial, Carney had asserted Salvi's right to testify, but the lawyer tried to limit the areas in which the prosecution could cross-examine him, so the judge turned him down.

At trial, Carney admitted in his opening statement that Salvi had fired the fatal shots, and he declined to challenge any of the prosecution's witnesses. Instead, the defense lawyer claimed that Salvi was a "sick, sick young man" who used careful tactics and foresight in pursuit of a delusional plan. Carney had sought a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity, which would have placed Salvi in a state mental hospital until a judge ruled that he was no longer a threat.

Assistant District Attorney John Kivlan portrayed Salvi as a cunning anti-abortion zealot, a "terrorist" who plotted the murders, then fled through an elaborate police manhunt.

Kivlan showed that Salvi purchased a .22-caliber Sturm Ruger semiautomatic rifle and customized it with a folding stock and pistol grip. Near his home in Hampton, N.H., Salvi purchased 1,000 hollow-tip bullets, designed to maximize injuries to human victims.

Although the prosecution presented evidence that Salvi had attended meetings of pro-life groups and had many anti-abortion pamphlets, the trail never showed that Salvi had any links to the organized anti-abortion movement.