Prophestown anti-abortionist sentenced for trying to burn down clinic

Philip J. Buyno

URBANA – A 73-year-old Prophetstown man who tried to burn down a future reproductive health clinic in Danville where abortions will be performed was sentenced Monday in federal court to five years in prison for attempted arson, and ordered to pay $327,547 in restitution.

U.S. Central District Court Judge Colin Stirling Bruce could have sentenced Philip Buyno, who turns 74 on March 1, to up to 20 years and fined him up to $250,000.

He will be under three years’ supervised release once his sentence is served. There is no parole in the federal system.

Assistant U.S Attorney Eugene Miller and Buyno’s defense attorney, Sharbel Rantisi, recommended that Buyno be sentenced to five years in prison, the minimum amount of years he faced.

”I am utterly traumatized by this devastating attack of anti-abortion terrorism,” LaDonna Prince, owner of the future clinic told Bruce before Buyno was sentenced.

Prince said Buyno’s attack has caused significant financial and emotional strain on her and her employees. She estimated that repairs will cost $327,547 and that she has tripled the cost of security to protect her future staff and patients.

Prince also said she decided to open her clinic, one of few in the nation owned independently by a woman of color, on the border of Indiana to prevent people who no longer have access to abortions and other reproductive services in that state from having to travel far into Illinois.

”Every day our clinic is not open, our patients suffer,” Prince said.

Miller acknowledged that Buyno is being sentenced because he did not follow the rule of law, he is not being sentenced to prison for his beliefs, noting that you cannot burn down someone’s property because you disagree with how they are using it.

Rantisi noted that Buno’s wife of 43 years, Sallie Buyno, died a few months before he decided to attack the clinic. Rantisi described Buyno as an otherwise stand-up citizen with six children, two of them adopted, and a lifelong career as an educator.

In a rambling statement to the judge, Buyno said he would be pro-choice, too, if it wasn’t for God’s word, and he waved his hands while characterizing himself as someone trying to issue a warning to others.

Buyno said that he and his wife became abortion opponents in 1973, and that he knew he had to move to Danville after he learned of plans for the clinic that he described as an ”abortion factory.“

”These little lives are real. We deny it, and we do,” Buyno said. “But I can’t.

”I did cross a line at the end,” he later said. “I hope to see you all in heaven.”

Bruce said he seriously considered giving Buyno a higher sentence than five years, but found the state and defense attorney’s agreement appropriate given Buyno’s age.

The judge also said he found Buyno’s offense troubling because Buyno decided that his beliefs were superior to all others’ beliefs, and that it wouldn’t matter if others got hurt.

Bruce sided with the prosecution’s decision to withhold administering a fine so that any of Buyno’s resources would go toward paying the $327,547 in restitution to Prince.

Prince said after the hearing that she was happy to have closure, but she wished Buyno received a longer sentence. She also noted it was not likely he would be able to pay her in full for the damages, so she is not only a victim of a crime but also financially tasked with the repairs.

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 on Aug. 30; he pleaded guilty to attempted arson on Sept. 19.

Around 4:30 a.m. that Saturday, 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 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 and arrested, and has been in the custody of the U.S. Marshal’s Service since.

A friend of Buyno’s, Michelle Wilkinson, submitted a character letter to Bruce, that read in part:

“... I write this letter to you in hope of sharing some of the hope and love that Phillip Buyno has shown to myself and my family over the last 30 years. Phil has been a father figure and grandfather figure in the most meaningful sense to my (now grown) children when, without his presence, would have had little to none.

“He has opened his heart and home to us back when I was a young, single mother working two jobs. If not for he, I cannot express how much more difficult, if not impossible it would have been for me to maintain a job.

“... I have watched him teach my children so many strong values and provide them with a sense of comfort, love and security that they would have otherwise never known from any other male figure in their life ... I cannot even begin to convey the amount of love, compassion, support and sacrifice that Phil has made for our family.”

Despite the fact the attack has pushed the opening of her clinic, Prince said after the hearing that she has her fingers crossed to open in 2024.

”It has definitely been a delay, but not a deterrent. We’re definitely going to open.”