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Jailed Anti-Abortion Activist Indicted in 10 Clinic Attacks


WASHINGTON — A woman now in prison for the attempted murder of an abortion clinic doctor has been charged with 30 federal felony counts for 10 arson and acid attacks on clinics in California, Oregon, Nevada and Idaho in 1992 and 1993.

The indictments of Rachelle Shannon, unsealed Monday by federal grand juries in Sacramento and Portland, accused her of arson, interference with commerce by force and interstate travel in aid of racketeering but alleged no conspiracy.

Shannon, 38, of Grants Pass, Ore., is serving a term of nearly 11 years at a Kansas state prison for the August, 1993, wounding of Dr. George Tiller, a Wichita, Kan., physician.

The latest charges include the use of a napalm-like substance in the Aug. 18, 1992, arson attack on the Feminist Women's Health Center in Sacramento, which carries a mandatory consecutive sentence of 30 years imprisonment on conviction.

"Violence against clinics which provide reproductive health services constitutes domestic terrorism," said Charles J. Stevens, U.S. attorney in Sacramento. "Investigating and prosecuting such conduct is a high priority in this office."

In one two-day period, Sept. 16 and 17, 1992, Shannon was accused of arson and acid attacks on abortion clinics in Chico, Eugene, Ore., and Reno. She also was charged with fire-bombing a Reno abortion facility three hours after a similar attack on the Sacramento clinic. The indictments also accuse Shannon of attacks on clinics in Redding, Calif., Portland and Boise, Ida.

Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, expressed relief that the grand juries "finally" had returned indictments, but said she was disappointed that no others were charged.

"Clearly no one person could have possibly done all of these arsons by herself--without the knowledge or help of others," Smeal said in a statement.

Justice Department officials and representatives of the U.S. attorneys offices in Sacramento and Portland noted only that no conspiracy charges were brought but that the investigation is continuing.

If there were information that others were involved, it would constitute evidence at Shannon's trial, "and I can't talk about it," said Stephen F. Peifer, assistant U.S. attorney in Portland. "The investigation continues into this and a whole array of other clinic violence."

In two of the attacks, Shannon is charged with injecting butyric acid into clinic facilities. John Russell, a Justice Department spokesman, said that the acid "smells exactly like vomit" and is so long-lasting that "you have to tear down walls to get rid of it."

If convicted, Shannon faces the possibility of substantial prison terms. The maximum sentence for each of the six arson counts, for example, is 10 years in prison. But in one of them, a firefighter was injured, which boosts the maximum possible penalty to 20 years imprisonment. The other counts carry maximum sentences ranging from five to 20 years in prison.

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