August 15, 2002
Glory to God! He won the victory in court, in spite of an array of extremely serious charges which were leveled against us. We knew we would be dealing with the allegation that Terri threatened abortionist Kenneth Wright, but that was only the beginning of his charges. Throughout his testimony, Wright seemed to become more and more desperate, and his charges became more and more extreme, as he sought to portray us as some kind of terrorists.
But in spite of the false accusations, the essence of the case was the proclamation of God's word, specifically Ezekiel 33. For those who may consider this to be an obscure, Old Testament passage, consider this New Testament reference: "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 6:23). I'm sure we all agree that this is the essence of the Gospel, and this is the essence of the message for which Terri was brought to court.
Our adversary was not to be underestimated. While we know that Satan is our primary adversary, and that this was a spiritual battle, it is worth noting that the human tool which testified against us in court was not an obscure foe. Kenneth Wright is one of the pioneers of America's abortion industry, one of the first to openly commit abortions. He is co-founder of the Family Planning Associates abortion empire, and taught FPA's Edward Allred the suction abortion method, which became the key to FPA's efficient assembly-line abortion machine.
(This was noted in a July 26, 2002, article in the Los Angeles Times about Allred. We can send you a copy of the article upon request.) Wright is a hardened, cynical man, who mocks God in his word and behavior.
"The wicked lie in wait for the righteous, seeking their very lives; but the Lord will not leave them in their power, or let them be condemned when brought to trial."
We began the day outside the courthouse by gathering with a few friends and supporters to read Psalm 37. The message of this psalm has been on our hearts throughout this ordeal. (LifeSavers co-founder Carlotta Fondren had told us after the July 9 incident that the Lord gave her this psalm as a message for Terri during this time. Several people had unusual dreams which they considered to be from the Lord leading up to this situation, including Carlotta and Terri.)
We prayed together asking God to use this hearing to plant the seeds of the Gospel in the hearts of everyone in the courtroom, and asked Him to be glorified in everything.
When we arrived at the courtroom, we first learned that the hearing had been moved from Judge Wallace's courtroom to Judge Gary Friedman's courtroom. This was an answer to prayer in itself; we had reason to believe that Wallace was biased against our family (but we had not taken any action to remove him from the case).
Throughout the day's proceedings, a few friends and supporters stayed around to pray, read Scripture, and watch the proceedings. We focused our Scripture readings on the Psalms, which seemed to be directly applicable to what was happening in many ways.
We had met Dianne Seames at the Kern Regional Prayer Watch weekly meetings, and we asked her to come to the hearing. She was present throughout the day, interceding in prayer. Afterwards I asked for her comments, and if she sensed the Lord showing her anything as she prayed through the day. She wrote:
"In Judges 3:1-2 it says that God left the nations to prove Israel and that the generations might know and be taught to war. I felt that God is moving us into this. I felt that this was but a small skirmish; bigger battles are yet to come. When we are faithful in a little God will give us more. We have much to learn yet and much more unity is needed. But you, we, have stood and not lost ground. The full victory will come as the body of Christ comes under the full headship of Christ. Then we will see the end of the abortion clinic and yes abortion itself. I am encouraged in what I see and you. God will reward
you and use you more and more."
For the first segment of the hearing, the bailiff did not allow the public to enter. Only Terri, Brian Chavez-Ochoa (her attorney), Wright, and a television cameraman were allowed inside. Judge Friedman made it clear from the start that he was going to take extra time to consider this case, because of the Constitutional issues involved. Normally, restraining order cases are heard between 8:30 and 9 am, but Terri's hearing was spread throughout the day in several segments, between other cases.
Friedman began by saying "we received many letters in support of Mrs. Palmquist's Constitutional right to be out on the sidewalk," and emphatically stressed that he would take Terri's Constitutional rights seriously. Then he read Wright's complaint, which noted that Terri has been an "abortion protester" outside his Family Planning Associates abortion center for years, but claimed that on July 9 she went beyond "protesting" by threatening his life.
Wright said when the police came to FPA on July 9, and he explained the "threat" to them, the police told him that they would arrest Terri. But later, the police came back and told him that after talking to some of the other people outside, they had decided not to arrest Terri that day. (In fact, however, the police didn't talk to anyone else outside other than Terri, who after being told "you have the right to remain silent," decided not to tell the police anything about what happened other than "I was just reading the Bible." The police were also made aware that a reporter was on the way, which could have influenced their decision on whether or not to arrest Terri.) Wright also noted that Michael I. Mahoney, special FBI agent, is investigating Terri's "threat."
Friedman then reviewed Terri's declaration, where she summarized her contacts with Wright over the past 15 years. (This had been written a couple of weeks ago with the help of Dana Cody and Katie Short of Life Legal Defense Foundation.) It mentioned one of Terri's first contacts with Wright, when she said "God bless you" and he replied "God must be a woman, because this world is such a mess." When Friedman asked Wright if this conversation actually occurred, Wright replied, "I really haven't paid attention to anything she said until July 9 when she threatened my life."
Terri's declaration went on to point out that we had videotaped some of our contacts with Wright on the afternoon of July 9, and that this videotape documented the fact that she was proclaiming the Gospel and reading God's Word to him, not threatening to kill him. When Friedman had to deal with another case for a while, he asked Terri to bring a copy of the July 9 videotape when she returned to court.
When the hearing resumed, Judge Friedman read the legal definition of harassment, emphasizing the fact that merely being annoyed by someone is not sufficient grounds for a harassment claim. For Terri's actions to be considered as harassment, it would require a reasonable person to be in fear of their safety. Friedman also stressed to Wright that the volume of Terri's speech was not relevant.
Then the videotape was played (see 2002jul9a.mpg and 2002jul9b.mpg).
As Wright sat in the courtroom, he had to once again listen to Terri proclaim the Gospel on the videotape. When Chavez-Ochoa asked Wright if Terri's words and actions on the videotape constituted harassment, Wright agreed that there was nothing wrong with what she did or said. But he claimed that the videotape did not accurately reflect what happened on the morning of July 9. Chavez-Ochoa asked Wright if he was challenging the authenticity of the tape. Wright agreed that the tape was authentic, but he claimed that what happened on the morning of July 9 was different. (In fact, however, we had deliberately re-enacted Terri's reading of Ezekiel 33 in the abortionist's presence, in order to document on videotape what she had done that morning.) Wright also claimed that another threat (not included on his written complaint) occurred on July 10.
On cross-examination, Chavez-Ochoa pointed out that even the words he attributed to Terri did not state that she would do anything to him, but that God would hold him responsible for his actions. "Are you afraid that fire will come out of heaven?" Chavez-Ochoa asked. Wright replied that he wasn't afraid of God.
As Wright was on the witness stand, Chavez-Ochoa noticed that Wright was not testifying from memory, but was reading notes. Chavez-Ochoa asked to see Wright's notes, and he discovered that "threats" which Wright testified took place on July 10 were dated July 30 on his notes. Under repeated questioning, Wright insisted emphatically that July 10 was the correct date, and that his notes were incorrect. Chavez-Ochoa took Wright through what probably seemed to most observers to be a long, trivial, series of questions seeking to identify the exact dates when various alleged incidents occurred. During this time, Wright testified that he only comes to Bakersfield on Mondays and Tuesdays, and that it has been many months since he was in Bakersfield on a Wednesday.
Chavez-Ochoa asked Wright if he was confident that all of the details of his testimony were correct, and Wright stated that he was sure that he testified correctly. By this time we could see why Chavez-Ochoa had spent so much time focusing on dates. Chavez-Ochoa asked Judge Friedman to note that July 10 was a Wednesday! (And because it was a Wednesday, Wright wasn't in Bakersfield, and his testimony about "threats" happening on July 10 was clearly false.)
Wright then said that he must have remembered the date wrong, and Chavez-Ochoa asked rhetorically "could you also be wrong about other parts of your testimony?"
Chavez-Ochoa pointed out that Wright's notes on the July 9 "threat" did not refer to Terri, but only to "a protester." Wright replied, "through the years I have intentionally made it a point not to give her the dignity of using her name." Chavez-Ochoa pointed out that various aspects of Wright's description of Terri in his written complaint were very different from her actual appearance.
Wright seemed to become desperate to find some way to make Terri look like a serious threat to him. He stated that many years ago, when FPA was located on Stockdale Highway, Terri had told him that it would be burned to the ground. "She told me repeatedly that it would burn to the ground, and then it happened," he said. He claimed that after the fire, federal agents told him "we know that Tim and Terri were involved, but we just can't prove it." (No wonder the arsonist was never found, if they wasted their time trying to connect us to this crime. No wonder so many terrorists were able to continue their work unhindered in our nation, when so much of federal agents' energy has been focused against peaceful pro-life missionaries like us. I see a direct connection between such witchhunts and September 11.)
Chavez-Ochoa objected to Wright's attempt to connect Terri with the fire, but Friedman said he would allow it, but only to show Wright's state of mind.
"The wicked man flees though no one pursues, but the righteous are as bold as a lion." Proverbs 28:1
Wright continued by claiming that several years later, when FPA had moved to H Street, Terri told him that it would be "blown sky high," and shortly after that a truck loaded with explosive propane tanks was intentionally crashed into the FPA building. "So when she said on July 9 that I would die, I believed that someone would be trying to kill me soon," Wright said.
Wright also said that the ATF (the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, which for some reason also handles anti-abortion crimes) had provided him with an escort to Bakersfield several years ago after other "threats" Terri made against him. He further testified that after several months of being escorted by the agents, he told them that he no longer needed their help. The agents told Wright to call them back if he ever needed their help again. Under cross-examination, he admitted that he never called them back. Chavez-Ochoa asked why Wright no longer needed the agents to escort him. Wright said that he didn't think that the agents would be able to stop an assassin, but would only apprehend the assailant after he was already dead. "Do you fear that Terri Palmquist would be an assassin?" Chavez-Ochoa asked. "Yes, sir," Wright replied, "because she said she would kill me."
Chavez-Ochoa asked why he didn't ask for a restraining order against Terri years ago when the other alleged "threats" were made. Wright said that it never crossed his mind. Chavez-Ochoa asked if there was a police report on these prior threats, and Wright said he didn't know. Wright also stated that he had a permit to carry a concealed weapon, but under cross-examination he admitted that the permit expired two years ago.
Wright also complained several times about Terri contacting his mechanic (Eye Street Automotive, which is across the alley from the LifeHouse, across the street from the FPA abortion chamber). He never explained how asking his mechanic not to work on his car constituted a threat, but he was clearly very disturbed about having his mechanic be contacted by pro-lifers.
He also claimed that about five months ago, "Tim and Terri" approached each side of his car as he was leaving FPA and took pictures of him with still cameras, and then said "we'll get you this time."
Somehow Wright never had the opportunity to explain why he suddenly "remembered" all of the "threats" Terri had made over the years, even though he had earlier testified that he ignored everything Terri had said up until July 9. Wright also didn't explain why these earlier "threats" were completely omitted from his written complaint, which clearly distinguished between Terri's July 9 "threat" and her previous 15 years of being an "abortion protester."
Wright insisted that on the morning of July 9, Terri was not reading from the Bible, and was not even holding a Bible, but that she threatened him by saying that he would die if he did not stop. Chavez-Ochoa asked Wright why he could be heard referring to "harassment" on the videotape which had been played earlier. When Wright said he didn't remember referring to "harassment," Chavez-Ochoa asked for the tape to be re-played. Wright said he still could not hear himself mentioning "harassment," so the tape was played again and again (once again providing several opportunities for everybody in the courtroom to hear the Gospel) until finally Wright admitted that his voice on the tape could be heard referring to "harassment." This showed the connection between Wright's July 9 complaint and Terri's words and actions as recorded on the videotape, conduct which Wright had earlier admitted was not illegal.
The most incredible part of the day occurred toward the end of Wright's testimony. He pulled out a clear plastic zip-bag, which contained a business-size envelope. He told the judge that he had received this envelope in the mail the day before the hearing, and he pointed out that it was addressed to "Abortionist Kenneth Wright" and that the return address on the envelope indicated that it was from "Tim Palmquist." We knew all about the envelope, because it simply contained a two page legal document which was Terri's response to Wright's petition. We were legally required to serve this document on him by mail. So we were quite puzzled at first as to why Wright was making an issue out of this.
"I was afraid to open this envelope, because when I held it up to the light I could see a granulated substance inside," Wright said. Chavez-Ochoa quickly responded, "Your honor, I would be happy to open the envelope." But Judge Friedman asked to look at the envelope more closely, and he said he could also see that some kind of granulated substance had settled in a corner of the envelope.
Wright tried to convince the judge that the envelope should be considered as an effort to intimidate him. "I don't think that the Palmquists would have access to anthrax--I don't even have access to anthrax," Wright admitted, "but I know that they have an organization and I don't know what their organization might be capable of doing." Friedman focused on moving ahead with the hearing.
"Have you turned this over to the authorities?" Friedman asked Wright. When Wright admitted that he had not even reported the supposedly suspicious envelope, Friedman told him that he should bring it to the appropriate authorities to investigate it that afternoon. Then, instead of allowing this stunt to derail the hearing, Friedman asked Wright if he was going to call any witnesses.
Abortionist Kenneth Wright and his security guard, Teresa Avlos, leaving court
midway through the day's hearings.
Wright then called Teresa Avlos to testify. Avlos is a security guard who works at FPA, and she testified that on July 8 she heard Terri tell Wright "you better stop doing what you're doing, or you're gonna die." "Those were her exact words," Avlos said. Chavez-Ochoa asked Avlos if Terri was reading from the Bible, and Avlos said she was not. Chavez-Ochoa noted the similarity between what Avlos claimed Terri said and the words of Ezekiel 33:9, and Friedman seemed to note the similarity. Avlos did not refer to any other "threats." Nobody pointed out the fact that the date Avlos referred to was different from the date of the "threat" Wright reported, but it seemed by now that the many contradictions in Wright's testimony were self-evident.
Wright had no further witnesses, so he rested his case. Chavez-Ochoa then made a motion to dismiss, emphatically explaining to Friedman that reading the Bible on a public sidewalk is Constitutionally protected speech. He also went on to explain the meaning of Ezekiel 33, and how the watchman is appointed by God to warn people to turn from their sins. "Terri Palmquist sees herself as a watchman," he explained, "and the sin that she is warning people to turn from is shedding the blood of innocent children."
Friedman then explained to Wright that the legal burden of proof in this case is "clear and convincing evidence." This is more than a "preponderance of the evidence" which is required in civil cases, and less than evidence "beyond a reasonable doubt" which is required in criminal cases. After Wright agreed that he understood the requirements of the burden of proof in this case, Friedman said "case dismissed because of insufficient evidence."
It was actually a bit frustrating to see the case dismissed at this point, because Terri had not had the opportunity yet to testify and to present her own witnesses. We were looking forward to Terri having the opportunity to repeat the Gospel message in court. But we were thankful that the Gospel message was heard at least four or five times during the hearing through the videotape which was played.
We had also hoped to hear Terri's three witnesses testify. Daniel and Laura Halbur and Jeanne Varga had come to pray outside FPA on the morning of July 9, and heard Terri reading from Ezekiel 33 to Wright. They would have easily refuted the claims of Wright and Avlos that Terri was not reading the Bible. These witnesses and their children stayed outside the courtroom all day waiting for the opportunity to testify; but their time was not wasted, as they spent a great deal of time in prayer.
We also have a videotape of Terri on the sidewalk about 10 minutes before Wright arrived which clearly shows Terri holding a Bible. The claim that Terri wasn't reading from the Bible seemed to be the only point where the testimony of Wright and Avlos agreed, but there were enough other contradictions that observers could see their deception.
Commit your way to the Lord ;
trust in him and he will do this:
He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn,
the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.
Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him;
do not fret when men succeed in their ways,
when they carry out their wicked schemes.
- Psalm 37:5-7
We gathered outside the courtroom, and re-read Psalm 37:5-15, reminding ourselves of God's promises which we had claimed that morning, and of how He had been faithful to do what He promised. It was an extremely emotional experience as we joined together in prayer, thanking God for His faithfulness and for allowing us to be used to glorify Him.
We were also very thankful for the help which Life Legal Defense Foundation provided throughout this case, along with attorneys Dana Cody, Katie Short, and Brian Chavez-Ochoa. (Chavez-Ochoa also happens to be the lead counsel for Operation Rescue West.)
As much as we rejoiced in this victory, however, there is still great cause for concern. The history of our involvement with this battle tells us that when the enemy suffers a significant defeat such as this, the enemy resorts to desperate measures.
For several months in 1992, the Bakersfield City Attorney tried to force our ministry to stay away from FPA (when they were at their old location on Stockdale Highway). Police came on several occasions threatening to arrest the peaceful sidewalk counselors, but even when arrests seemed to be a certainty, the sidewalk counselors remained faithful and refused to abandon the ministry to women and their children. Many people appeared at City Council meetings to plead with the City Attorney and police to stop threatening peaceful Christians with arrest, and to stop being de facto advocates for the abortion industry. Although the City never officially backed down, within a few weeks the police presence disappeared, and the ministry continued unhindered for several months.
We believe that our opponents became very frustrated that their efforts to stop us failed. We believe that someone among our opponents decided to take extreme measures, doing something which they believed would completely discredit us once and for all. But no matter what we believe, the fact is that within a few months of this victory, someone burned down the office complex where the FPA abortion center was located. And it was done in a way which was clearly meant to implicate us. We praise God that through a series of events which led up to that time, we had sensed that God was leading us to go to Florida for some pro-life leadership meetings. And so, the morning of the fire, as some tried to connect us with this violent act, we were on the opposite side of the country. We had no idea that anyone was even thinking of committing such an act. We were just as shocked as everyone else that FPA burned down. We are committed to peaceful action against abortion. In fact, at those very meetings in
Florida, we were speaking up for non-violence.
I hope that the warning which is evident by this little bit of history is clear. Because the abortionist was unsuccessful in obtaining a restraining order against Terri, we are concerned that someone may now do something extreme, seeking once again to discredit us once and for all. Please pray with us that God will bring Kenneth Wright to repentance, and that the evil plans of anyone (on either side) would be frustrated.