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Jury convicts Pendergraft, Spielvogel, 2/2/2001

By Editorial Staff
Published February 2, 2001

By Rick Cundiff, Staff Writer, Ocala Star Banner

OCALA — Abortion clinic owner Dr. James Scott Pendergraft IV and his associate, Michael Spielvogel, were found guilty of conspiracy, extortion and mail fraud charges Thursday morning and remain free until a sentencing hearing to be scheduled at a later date.

Pendergraft faces up to 30 years in prison and $750,000 in fines, while Spielvogel — who was also convicted of filing a false affidavit and making false statements to the FBI — could face up to 40 years in prison and $1.25 million in fines.

The verdict was handed down shortly after 10 a.m., just an hour after the jury began its second day of deliberation. Senior U.S. District Judge William Terrell Hodges sent the jury home late Wednesday after they failed to reach a verdict during nearly seven hours.

Moments after the hearing ended, Spielvogel offered no comment to a crush of media that surrounded him as he walked slowly to his car. Meanwhile, Pendergraft couldn’t be reached for comment immediately after the verdict.

Pendergraft owns the Ocala Women’s Center on Pine Avenue and four other abortion clinics in Tampa, Fort Lauderdale and Orlando.

Wednesday began with Pendergraft’s lawyers, Jacob Rose and Larry Colleton, and Spielvogel’s lawyer, Daniel Brodersen, asking Hodges to declare a mistrial. Rose alleged that closing remarks made by prosecutors Mark Devereaux and Judy Hunt on Wednesday were so prejudicial the defense could not overcome them.

The prosecutors said Wednesday that Pendergraft and Spielvogel had committed perjury on the witness stand, with Devereaux saying the jury should not believe any of Pendergraft’s testimony. Hunt used the phrase “bomb, murder and maim” to describe the threat Spielvogel said Marion County Commissioner Larry Cretul had made to him on the telephone.

Spielvogel admitted last week that Cretul had never made any such threat.

“It’s our position that these are unfair and inflammatory comments, meant only to inflame the jury,” Brodersen said.

Hodges denied the mistrial motions.

In his instructions, Hodges told the jurors they could consider any witnesses’ views on abortion as to how it affected their behavior, but added “the matter of abortion is not otherwise involved in this case.

“There is no issue in this case whether abortions are right or wrong,” he added, “and you should not be influenced by your own feelings about abortion, whatever your view might be.”

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