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Suspect in fire at Wyoming abortion clinic set to take plea deal

Jul 19, 2023, 10:15 PM

FILE - The fire-damaged Wellspring Health Access clinic is cordoned by tape, May 25, 2022, in Caspe...

FILE - The fire-damaged Wellspring Health Access clinic is cordoned by tape, May 25, 2022, in Casper, Wyo. A judge is set to consider a plea deal Thursday, July 20, 2023, for an abortion opponent who investigators say burned Wyoming's first full-service abortion clinic in years. (AP Photo/Mead Gruver, File)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(AP Photo/Mead Gruver, File)

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — A judge is set to consider a plea deal Thursday for an abortion opponent who investigators say burned Wyoming’s first full-service abortion clinic in years.

Lorna Roxanne Green, 22, told investigators she broke in and used gasoline to set fire to the Wellspring Health Access clinic in Casper because it was giving her anxiety and nightmares, according to court documents.

Green is scheduled to appear in court for a change-of-plea hearing Thursday before U.S. District Judge Alan Johnson in Cheyenne. Details of her proposed deal with prosecutors have been off-limits to the public pending Johnson’s approval of the agreement.

Charged with arson, Green faces up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, though a plea deal could bring a lighter sentence. Green has been free from jail since March while her case proceeds, and she pleaded not guilty at a court hearing in June.

Her deal with prosecutors, revealed by court documents filed last week, suggests she’s now willing to plead guilty or no contest to arson or possibly some other charge. Johnson will accept or reject the plea agreement at the hearing or decide to rule later.

At the time of the fire in May 2022, the clinic was being renovated with plans to open within the next several weeks. The fire delayed the clinic almost a year; Wellspring Health Access finally opened April 20 of this year.

Though Green told investigators she opposed abortion, the Casper College student showed no sign of anti-abortion views or activism on social media. Green is from Casper and was living in Laramie at the time of the fire.

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 to 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.

While Green has remained publicly quiet about her views, many other clinic opponents have not. Protesters gather outside the clinic regularly, and in May, Casper Mayor Bruce Knell apologized for a Facebook post about the clinic some interpreted as sympathizing with the fire attack.

Wellspring Health Access provides surgical and pill abortions, making it the first of the kind in the state in at least a decade. Before it opened, only one other clinic in Wyoming — one in Jackson, some 250 miles (400 kilometers) away — provided abortions, and only by pill.

The fire and plans for Wellspring Health Access — led by longtime abortion advocate Julie Burkhart, a former associate of assassinated Kansas abortion doctor George Tiller — occurred amid a contentious backdrop for abortion in Wyoming. Women in the rural state often go to Colorado and other nearby states for abortions.

Abortion remains legal in Wyoming after a series of court rulings suspending new state laws seeking to make abortion illegal pending the outcome of a lawsuit challenging the bans.

Last summer, Teton County District Judge Melissa Owens suspended an abortion ban that took effect after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade decision. Wyoming’s ban stood to harm women and their doctors who sued to contest the ban, Owens ruled.

Since then, ban on abortion pills, which had been set to take effect July 1.

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.

___ Bedayn is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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Suspect in fire at Wyoming abortion clinic set to take plea deal