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"If man sheds man's blood ...'

Published Oct. 6, 2005

The anti-abortion movement was put on trial Friday as Michael Griffin's defense unfolded.

In a climate of escalating confrontations, anti-abortion leader John Burt influenced Griffin to play the martyr and take responsibility for a crime he didn't commit, Griffin's attorney said.

Griffin, 32, a former chemical worker and an anti-abortion activist, is charged with the murder of Dr. David Gunn in front of a Pensacola abortion clinic. Gunn was shot three times in the back.

It was Burt and his close friend Donnie Gratton who were questioned Friday about their beliefs, religion, propaganda and anti-abortion activities.

Although Griffin was a follower, Burt denied pushing him to violence or participating in a conspiracy in which Griffin would take the fall for Gunn's murder. Through the day, witnesses quoted Bible scriptures to defend the actions of those who will do anything to stop abortions.

Burt talked about a 5-foot-tall effigy of Dr. Gunn with a noose around his neck and red paint for blood on his hands. A sign quoted from Genesis: "If man sheds man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed."

Asked to explain what that meant, Burt said, "If this was a Christian country, Dr. Gunn would be guilty of murder, and he would stand trial before his peers and be executed."

Burt said he stops short of advocating killing abortion doctors, yet he testified he did have a bumper sticker on his truck at the time of the slaying that read: "Execute murderers and abortionists."

While Burt discussed the effigy and a funeral he held for two fetuses, Griffin broke down in tears and wept, his head in his hands. A juror also cried, so Circuit Judge John Parnham stopped testimony and took a break.

When testimony resumed Friday, Burt did not deny that he once predicted that as the abortion war escalated, people were going to get hurt.

"I can't help it if what I do inspires someone to go off the deep-end," he admitted saying.

Other witnesses testified that confrontations between Burt and Dr. Gunn had escalated in the months prior to the slaying, with the two "flipping each other off" with obscene hand gestures and Burt threatening Gunn and stalking both Gunn and his girlfriend.

"Burt once said to him, "Don't you know how dangerous it is for you to be traveling these roads alone?' " Gunn's girlfriend, Paula Leonard, testified.

She began sobbing as she described how frightened she was when Burt and Gratton followed them, sometimes for more than 30 miles. "Once . . . (Burt) yelled, "Why don't you find a real man and a real daddy for your kids instead of a butcher.' "

Dr. Gunn would sometimes blow the protesters kisses and once played Tom Petty's song I Won't Back Down for them. He sang Happy Birthday on the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade.

Burt and Gratton denied stalking or threatening Gunn, but the accusation that seemed to touch a nerve was that he and Gratton shook hands after hearing the shots that killed Gunn on March 10, 1993.

"That's a lie," he said.

When Gratton took the stand, he was asked point blank: "Did you shoot Dr. Gunn?"

"No," he said.

He went on to say that the only reason he knew who killed Gunn was that he overheard Griffin confess to police officers.

Those officers testified earlier this week, as did numerous witnesses who saw Griffin standing over Gunn holding a revolver. There has also been evidence that the gun belonged to Griffin and that Griffin confessed to his wife, saying it would be worth spending his life in jail to "save one baby."

Griffin did not testify, and closing arguments will begin today.

Gunn's children, David and Wendy, were visibly shaken by Burt's testimony Friday.

But outside the courtroom, David Gunn Jr. shook Burt's hand. He said he wanted Burt to have to look him in the eye. Burt, teary-eyed, said he was sorry about Gunn's death and only wished the doctor had been "saved" in the Christian sense.

"Does he expect me to believe that?" David, 23, said later. "I think he has far more involvement than he admits."

Burt's talk of Gunn being a "murderer" infuriated the family.

"I'm real mad," said Gunn's daughter, Wendy, 19. "I think that's fair to say."