CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — Emotional and physical abuse by parents who expected her to someday play a “supporting role” in her own life in deference to a future husband featured in the childhood of a woman who burned what was to be Wyoming’s first full-service abortion clinic in at least a decade, a judge said Thursday in handing down the minimum prison sentence for the crime.
New details behind the 2022 arson at Wellspring Health Access in Casper, delaying the clinic’s opening by almost a year, emerged as Lorna Roxanne Green, 22, was sentenced to five years in prison and three years probation.
In addition, Green will have to pay “very, very substantial” restitution that is yet to be determined but will be “well over $280,000,” U.S. District Judge Alan Johnson said.
Green said little at the hearing but through her attorney, Ryan Semerad, told the court she acted alone, accepted responsibility and didn’t intend to cause fear or make a political statement but failed to handle her strong emotions about the clinic.
“You are a talented and gifted person,” Johnson told her. “You are entitled to your opinions, whatever they may be, but those opinions do not justify in any respect the terror that was caused.”
Prosecutors and Green’s attorney said in the hearing they agreed to the mandatory minimum sentence.
As many as 20 supporters of Green turned out for the hearing. Green looked to them with a slight smile after entering the courtroom but neither she nor they reacted emotionally during the proceedings. Two women and a man who sat among Green’s supporters during the proceedings said her family had no comment.
Johnson said he received a “remarkable” outpouring of letters in support of Green from family, friends and community members.
Green faced up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine after pleading guilty in July. As at her plea hearing, she said she was sorry for what she did.
Green told investigators she opposed abortion and that anxiety and nightmares about the clinic caused her to burn it. Johnson urged Green to get treatment for her obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety and depression described in a “lengthy report” from a psychologist.
“You are a complex person,” Johnson told her.
The judge related details from pre-sentencing reports about her now-distant relationship with “helicopter” parents after a childhood in which she was regularly spanked up to age 18. Her mother once struck and gave her sister a bloody nose, Johnson said, referring to the documents.
Green experienced “emotional and physical abuse” and “control and manipulation by her parents” who “talked down” to her, Johnson said.
The pre-sentencing reports have not been made available to the public. Green’s parents, who had no listed number, did not return a phone message left through Semerad’s office seeking comment on the allegations.
The fire happened weeks before the clinic was to open. Extensive damage to the building being remodeled for the clinic kept it from opening for almost a year.
Green admitted to breaking in, pouring gasoline around the inside of the building and lighting it on fire, according to court documents.
The Casper College mechanical engineering student showed no sign of anti-abortion views on social media but told investigators she opposed abortion.
She told a U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agent she bought gas cans and aluminum pans the day before the fire, drove to Casper, and carried the cans and pans to the clinic in a bag, matching security video and a witness account, according to a court filing.
She admitted using a rock to break glass in a door to enter and pouring gasoline into the pans in several rooms and on the floor before lighting it, according to the document.
Investigators said they made little progress finding who started the fire until a reward was increased to $15,000 in March, leading several tipsters to identify Green.
The arson was one of hundreds against abortion clinics in the U.S. since the 1970s, Wellspring founder and President Julie Burkhart said in the hearing.
Burkhart said she had a daughter about Green’s age, however, and felt sorry that she had derailed her life by burning the clinic.
“In a way, my heart breaks for the defendant. She made a terrible choice and committed a heinous crime,” Burkhart said.
Burkhart once worked closely with Dr. George Tiller, a Wichita, Kansas, abortion doctor who was assassinated at church in 2009. Four years after his murder, Burkhart helped to reopen Tiller’s clinic.
The clinic, which opened in April, provides surgical and pill abortions, making it the first of its kind in the state in at least a decade. Only one other clinic in Wyoming — in Jackson, some 250 miles (400 kilometers) away — provides abortions, and only by pill.
Laws passed in Wyoming in 2022 and 2023 sought to make abortion in the state illegal but a judge has kept abortion legal while a lawsuit challenging the new laws proceeds. One of the new Wyoming laws to ban any drug used to cause an abortion would be the nation’s first explicit ban on abortion pills.
Teton County District Judge Melissa Owens has expressed sympathy with arguments that a 2012 state constitutional amendment guaranteeing Wyoming residents’ right to make their own health care decisions conflicted with the bans.
Though abortion in Wyoming has remained legal, women in the rural state often go to nearby states, including Colorado, for abortions.