I arrived at Dauphin County Prison Courthouse early on January 31. The preliminary proceedings against Nathan Richardson, assailant of pro-lifer Ed Snell, were scheduled for 9:00 a.m. and it was still before 8:00 a.m. I decided to take a short drive through the area and think through the events as I remembered them.
On the brisk morning of December 22, 2007, Mr. Snell, 69, arrived at Hillcrest Abortion clinic in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, to start the day as he is accustomed to starting most Saturdays of the year: by counseling women entering the building not to kill their pre-born children.
Mr. Snell and his fellow pro-lifers have been effective – so effective, that Hillcrest erected a 7-foot fence to prevent their contact with the clinic’s “patients.” Undeterred, the pro-lifers started bringing ladders that would elevate them above the fence and allow them to continue their life-saving work.
Rather than spend long hours on the rung of a ladder, Mr. Snell fastened a sheet of plywood to the roof of his car. From this makeshift platform, he had a good vantage point and soapbox to spread his message.
This particular morning, a couple parked opposite Mr. Snell, on the clinic’s side of the fence. When the 69-year-old pro-lifer warned the woman about the proven link between abortion and breast cancer, her boyfriend, Nathan Richardson, became enraged, scaled the fence and shoved Mr. Snell to the asphalt 5 feet below, where he suffered two broken ribs, a broken shoulder, two fractured vertebrae and bleeding inside the skull.
Mr. Snell was rushed to the hospital, the police threatened the other pro-lifers with arrest and Nathan Richardson was let free.
“He Got What He Deserved!”
I first heard this story at Sunday Mass and I wanted to learn more about it. After searching for details on the Internet, I realized that no one had broken the story. Fearful that it would be swept under the rug by the liberal mainstream media, I decided to write an article and do whatever I could to spread the news.
While researching the story, I called Hillcrest Abortion clinic for a statement, assuming they would try to divorce themselves from the violence perpetrated at their center. I was wrong. When I asked for a statement, a receptionist screamed at me: “He [Mr. Snell] got what he deserved!” and hung up the phone.
As these memories replayed in my mind, I looked at my watch. It was now 8:30 a.m., so I decided to return to the courtroom. By this time, various pro-lifers from the area had begun to congregate in the lobby.
Around ten minutes later, Mr. Snell came in, using a walker and a cumbersome back brace that his doctor still insists he use whenever he is up for any length of time. In spite of the pain, he still suffers from his injuries, he is upbeat and jovial.
By the time the trial was set to begin, more than forty pro-life activists filled the room. When I stood back and observed them, their jovial demeanor inspired me. It reminded me that thirty-five years of dogged struggle has not broken American pro-lifers. Rather, it has forged in them an indomitable spirit that compels them to continue their work until abortion is defeated entirely.
Rather than attempt to accommodate the large group present, one bailiff called out that only 11 people would be admitted into the courtroom. Since I was the only reporter present, I was chosen to be one of the attendees.
The purpose of the proceedings was to see what charges Richardson would face in trial. While the prosecutor hoped he would be charged with aggravated assault, reckless endangerment and plain assault, he had already warned Mr. Snell that the aggravated assault charge might be thrown out, since this requires proof of the assailant’s intent to inflict permanent bodily harm on his victim – not always an easy task.
Magisterial District Judge Barbara Pianka began the proceedings and the prosecution called Mr. Snell to the stand. I was surprised to see that Richardson’s steely cold gaze did not soften or change as Mr. Snell outlined the full extent of his injuries.
Next, eyewitness John McTernan was called to the stand. Though he and Mr. Snell gave a detailed description of what had taken place, neither was able to identify Richardson as the assailant. Officer Alrich, the first cop to arrive on the scene, provided this missing link when he was called to the stand. He recounted how Richardson had admitted to losing his temper, jumping on the car and shoving Mr. Snell to the ground below.
Surprisingly, the next witness contradicted the fact. Anita Stabile helps at the abortion mill, escorting women into the clinic to “protect them” and ensure that they are able to terminate the lives of their preborn children without being deterred by pro-lifers. She took the stand and testified that Richardson had never set foot on Mr. Snell’s car.
She claimed to have witnessed a different scene in which Mr. Snell had been “hanging over the fence” and only fell when Richardson bumped into him while scaling the barrier. This seemed unlikely since Mr. Snell had landed a full six feet behind his car. In spite of being questioned by both attorneys on her testimony, she was adamant that she had seen the whole encounter and stuck to her story.
After closing arguments, Judge Pianka decided that throwing an elderly man off of a car onto asphalt did not demonstrate “intent to do permanent bodily harm” and threw out the aggravated assault charge. Nevertheless, the plain assault and reckless endangerment charges still stand and Nathan Richardson will stand trial for these in approximately three months.
Reactions to the Verdict
The prosecuting attorney, Carlton Smith, had hoped the aggravated assault charge would stand, but remains confident that the other two charges will end in conviction. He said: “I told the people involved that there was a chance that the District Justice would dismiss the aggravated assault charge…however, I think the facts of this case will support the assault and reckless endangerment charges.”
Mr. Snell echoed similar sentiments, saying: “We were forewarned that the District Justice might throw out the aggravated assault charge.” Nevertheless, he is satisfied: “I think that both the District Attorney did a good job as well as the witnesses. As far as I could tell, they represented me as well as they could.”
He unassumingly hopes that this will result in the conviction of Nathan Richardson, not so much for himself, but for the pro-life cause in general. “This isn’t about me. This is about pro-life counselors and the people who go to the clinic. In general, we try to present the facts to the girls going in, to speak our minds under the First Amendment and exercise our constitutional rights. There is a question at stake. Are pro-lifers to be singled out and told no, if you go out there we’ll throw you off a car and too bad? We need to be protected too. We are American citizens just like everybody else.” After I finished speaking with him I could not help but be impressed. I silently said a prayer that justice will prevail…and another one for Ed Snell.