Christmas abortion bombings
A trio of anti-abortion bombings took place on Christmas Day, 1984. The attacks, planned under the code-name "Gideon Project," were perpetrated by Matt Goldsby and Jimmy Simmons, two 21-year-old members of the First Assembly of God congregation, as well as Goldsby's fiancee Kaye Wiggins and Simmons's wife Kathy, both 18. They targeted the Ladies Center abortion clinic and two offices of OB/GYN doctors who performed occasional abortions.
Goldsby and Simmons had already committed an abortion clinic bombing that year, destroying the Ladies Center with a pipe bomb on June 25, 1984. They had detonated the bomb in the early morning hours, before employees had arrived, so there were no injuries. The damage, estimated at more than $200,000, forced the Ladies Center to relocate to a new office on Ninth Avenue, which opened on August 13. No arrests were made in the June bombing, which Goldsby and Simmons took as a sign of divine approval and began plotting to destroy the Ladies Center's new location.
Exactly six months after the first bombing, in the early dawn of Christmas Day, the Ladies Center was bombed again at its new location, along with the two offices of Drs. William Permenter and Bo Bagenholm, OB/GYNs whose practices included some abortion. (Goldsby was an aspiring weightlifter who exercised at the same gym as Bagenholm.) The damages incurred by the three bombings were about $100,000, $225,000 and $100,000, respectively. As before, there were no injuries.
Following the new bombings, the Pensacola News Journal received an anonymous letter taking credit for the bombings. The author, apparently female, wrote that the bombings were the result of guilt over an abortion she had while in the Navy.
Arrests & trial
An investigation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms traced pipe used in the bombings to the construction company where Goldsby worked, and he was arrested on December 30. His fiancee Kaye Wiggins, along with Jimmy and Kathy Simmons, were arrested on January 2, 1985. On January 16, the two men (both 21 at the time) were each indicted on nine counts related to the bombings, while the women (both 18) were charged with seven counts each.
The two men confessed of the bombings to federal agents. The couples also held interviews and press conferences where they openly discussed the bombings, and Wiggins called the bombings "a gift to Jesus on his birthday." Regardless, they all pleaded not guilty to the charges on January 18. The couples' attorneys announced their intent to use an insanity defense, which had been affected by new federal law passed the previous October. Prosecutors agreed to drop the charges related to the June bombing, when the old law was still in effect, as the new law shifted burden of proof of insanity to the defendants.
During the trial, the prosecution described the details of the conspiracy plotted by the two couples with the code-name "Gideon Project," a reference to the Biblical figure called by God to destroy the altars where babies were sacrificed. Prosecutors showed how Kaye and Kathy were enlisted by the men to buy powder for the bombs at local gun shops. Some of the powder used for the bombs was acquired at a local hobby shop via model rocket engines. Defense attorneys argued that the defendants were torn by conflicting societal views on abortion, citing a 1982 letter by President Reagan condemning the practice, and that their deeply-held religious convictions — three were members of the First Assembly of God, and Wiggins of the Amazing Grace Tabernacle Church — led to the acts. The defense tried to appeal to the religious beliefs of the jury, calling God both "the thirteenth juror" and an "unindicted co-conspirator" in the case.
Presiding U.S. District Court Judge Roger Vinson ruled against the defense several times, first denying attempts to consolidate the three charges of bomb construction into a single charge (which attorneys argued had been constructed at the same time), then barring the testimony of a "critical" psychology witness, whom he ruled was unqualified to give an opinion on severe mental defects.
Throughout the trial, anti-abortion protesters, led by local activist John Burt, picketed outside the federal courthouse. Burt carried a jar containing an aborted fetus, which he nicknamed "Baby Charlie."
On April 24, 1985, Goldsby and James Simmons were convicted by the jury on all counts related to the bombings. Wiggins and Kathy Simmons were convicted on counts of conspiracy, but acquitted of the charges that they had actually manufactured and detonated the bombs. On May 30, the two men were both sentenced to ten-year sentences, which they began on June 17, 1985, while the women received five years' probation.
- Dallas A. Blanchard and Terry J. Prewitt. Religious Violence and Abortion: The Gideon Project, p. 45.
- Abortion violence timeline, 1982-1998
- "Letter-Writer Takes Responsibility for Bombs." New York Times, December 29, 1984.
- Explosions Over Abortion. Time, January 14, 1985.
- "4 in Florida Pleas Not Guilty In Abortion Clinic Bombings." New York Times, January 19, 1985.
- "Some Charges Dropped On Abortion Bombing." New York Times, April 16, 1985.
- Wrath of Angels: The American Abortion War, p. 199.
- "2 Of 4 Are Guilty Of Clinic Bombing." New York Times, April 25, 1985.
- "Clinic Bomb Trial Told Of Disorders." New York Times, April 21, 1985.