BY MARY NELL BOCKMAN
DEDHAM, Massachusetts - Opening arguments were presented February 14 in a suburban Boston courthouse here in the trial of antiabortion activist John Salvi. Salvi's attorney admitted to the jury that his client, a 23-year-old New Hampshire resident, killed two workers and shot five others at the Planned Parenthood and Pre-Term clinics on Dec. 30, 1994, but claims that Salvi was insane at the time. He urged that Salvi be found "not guilty by reason of mental illness."
A dozen witnesses, including some of those shot by Salvi, identified him as the gunman. An employee at Pre-Term testified that Salvi shouted "This is what you get. Pray the rosary," as he shot clinic receptionist Lee Ann Nichols ten times. Like Paul Hill, the ultrarightist who murdered a doctor and clinic escort in Pensacola, Florida, 18 months ago, Salvi regularly protested and harassed patients outside clinics that perform abortions, including the two he attacked.
He was arrested in Norfolk, Virginia, two days after the killings after spraying gunfire at the outside of another clinic there. At several points in the jury selection and preliminary proceedings, Salvi requested the right to speak to the jury detailing his views, which the judge denied. In a written statement he held up on February 6, photographed by the only camera permitted in the courtroom and reproduced in the press, he stated that he was "pro-life, pro-welfare state, pro-family and pro-Catholic labor union." He said, "I have taken part in many pro-life protests outside of 1031 Beacon St. Brookline [the address of the Planned Parenthood clinic] and have been filmed protesting by pro-choice escorts on several occasions." Salvi went on to reiterate his right to address the jury and stated, "If I will be convicted then I plead insane." The following day, after another written statement was confiscated by court officials and he was again denied the right to speak, Salvi overturned the defense table and was dragged from the room. Since then he has not been allowed pen and paper in court. Salvi is part of the wing of the antiabortion movement that advocates violent assaults on doctors and clinic workers to stop abortions. He reportedly has advocated "stronger action" at protests in front of the clinics.
Two protesters supporting Salvi showed up on the first day of jury selection outside the Dedham courthouse holding signs saying, "Salvi Saved Lives" and "Execute Murderers, Abortionists and Accessories."
A dozen defenders of abortion rights with signs demanding Salvís conviction and an end to the terrorist attacks on clinics demonstrated at the courthouse on the day of the opening arguments in the trial.
About 50 pro-choice demonstrators showed up outside the Planned Parenthood clinic February 10 at the monthly demonstration to counter the regular mobilization of anti- choice forces there. Activists on the picket line discussed the need for visible protests at the Salvi trial and signed up to participate.
The Massachusetts National Organization for Women, which organized the march and rally on the first anniversary of the killings, has opposed public protests at the courthouse and instead advocated a "monitoring presence." They have issued no public statements since the trial began. Planned Parenthood agreed to the judge's request to refrain from public comment during the trial and canceled a press conference scheduled after the jury toured the clinics where the shootings occurred.
The trial is expected to last another three weeks.
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