URBANA – Three weeks after a federal judge denied his request to plead no contest, an elderly Prophetstown anti-abortion activist pleaded guilty to trying to burn down a clinic where abortions will be performed.
That means 73-year-old Philip J. Buyno faces up 20 years in prison at his sentencing Feb. 5. There is no parole in the federal system.
He also could be fined up to $250,000.
Buyno’s request to plead no contest, in which he would have accepted a conviction without admitting his guilt, was denied on Aug. 30; he requested a change of plea hearing on Sept. 14 and pleaded guilty to attempted arson on Tuesday.
Buyno was indicted June 6 for the May 20 incident in Danville.
His role in speedy resolution to the case will help him when U.S. Central District Court Judge Colin Stirling Bruce determines his sentence.
Federal sentencing guidelines require the judge to consider many factors, including the seriousness of the offense, the defendant’s criminal history and whether he accepted responsibility and cooperated with investigators and prosecutors.
Buyno immediately admitted to investigators planning and attempting to burn down the clinic, but he also said if given the chance, he’d do it again, which may negate his acceptance of responsibility in Bruce’s eye.
It was among the reason’s the judge did not accept his plea of nolo contendere.
In his interview after his arrest, he told investigators he was a member of an anti-abortion “rescue group” that prevents abortion clinics from being established.
About 4:30 a.m., he backed his car into the entrance of the building, which was being remodeled into a reproductive health clinic. It has not yet opened.
His car was filled with containers of gasoline, wood and old tires Buyno planned to use to burn down the building.
His effort, which was caught on video surveillance cameras, failed when his car doors became jammed shut by the debris, and he couldn’t get out or reach a container of gasoline he had thrown out the window.
He was extricated and arrested.
Buyno told officers during his interview that day that “if I could sneak in with a gas can and a match, I’d go there again,” and that if he was released from jail, he’ll go back and finish the job.
Because of Danville’s proximity to the Illinois-Indiana border, interstate commerce would be conducted at the clinic, hence the federal charge.
Buyno filed his request to plead no contest on July 25, based on “his religious beliefs, as those beliefs are completely opposed to the expected purpose and use of the building.”
Bruce said he declined to agree to it in part because because by doing so, it might not deter others, or Buyno himself, from committing a similar crime in the future. He cited Buyno’s remarks to investigators in his ruling.
Buyno will remain in the custody of the U.S. Marshal’s Service until he is sentenced.