Prophetstown anti-abortion activist to be sentenced Monday in federal court

Buyno, 73, faces up to 20 years for attempted arson of Danville reproductive health clinic

Philip J. Buyno

URBANA – Sentencing remains set for 3 p.m. Monday for a 73-year-old Prophetstown man who tried to burn down a future reproductive health clinic in Danville, where he said abortions will be performed.

Philip J. Buyno, who turns 74 on March 1, faces five to 20 years in federal prison, a fine of up to $250,000 and restitution – potentially a life sentence for him.

There is no parole in the federal system.

Federal sentencing guidelines require U.S. Central District Court Judge Colin Stirling Bruce to consider many factors when determining Buyno’s sentence, including the seriousness of the crime, his criminal history – Buyno was convicted three times in 2019 of misdemeanor trespassing at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Peoria – and whether he accepted responsibility and cooperated with investigators and prosecutors in this case.

A presentence investigation and a sentencing recommendation were filed Jan. 26; they are not public documents, and their contents won’t be revealed until the sentencing hearing.

Buyno was indicted June 6 for the May 20 incident. His request to plead no contest, in which he would have accepted a conviction without admitting his guilt, was denied Aug. 30; he pleaded guilty to attempted arson Sept. 19.

His immediate admission to the crime and his role in a speedy resolution of the case will be factors in his favor Monday, but he also told investigators that if given the chance, he’d attack the clinic again, which the judge may consider a refusal to accept responsibility, and that would weigh against him.

It was among the reasons the judge did not accept his no contest plea.

About 4:30 a.m. May 20, Buyno backed his 2012 Passat into the entrance of the building at 600 N. Logan Ave., which was being remodeled into a clinic. His car was filled with containers of gasoline, wood and old tires that he planned to use as fuel to set the building ablaze.

His effort was caught on video surveillance. It failed when his car doors became jammed shut by the fallen debris, and he couldn’t get out of the vehicle or reach a container of gas he had thrown out the window.

He was extricated from the vehicle and arrested, and he has been in the custody of the U.S. Marshal’s Service since.

Buyno told investigators that he was a member of an anti-abortion “rescue group” that prevents abortion clinics from being established, and he told the court that he wanted to plead no contest because of “his religious beliefs, as those beliefs are completely opposed to the expected purpose and use of the building.”

The clinic was expected to open last year, but it has become a point of contention for the city, the target of protests and organized efforts to prevent it from opening, so it has not yet opened.

The two-story building, a former eye clinic, is owned by Indianapolis-based McGhee Investment Group, which is associated with the Indianapolis Clinic for Women that provides abortion services.

Because of Danville’s proximity to the Illinois-Indiana border, interstate commerce would be conducted at the clinic, hence the federal charge.

Buyno, who at first wanted to represent himself, is represented by appointed attorney Sharbel Rantisi with the Criminal Justice Act panel.

The CJA represents federal defendants accused of serious crimes who cannot afford to hire their own attorney.

Kathleen Schultz

Kathleen A. Schultz

Kathleen Schultz is a Sterling native with 40 years of reporting and editing experience in Arizona, California, Montana and Illinois.