Following three days of hearings, a man with connections to a local anti-choice group was sentenced on Thursday to five years in prison for vandalizing a Kalispell, Montana reproductive health-care facility in 2014.
Zachary Klundt broke into and vandalized All Families Healthcare, a family medicine and reproductive health-care facility, on March 3, 2014. Klundt originally pleaded not guilty to six felony charges, changed his plea after reaching an agreement with prosecutors.
Klundt pleaded guilty to felony burglary, criminal mischief, and theft on April 2. The other three charges, related to break-ins at two other local businesses, were dropped by prosecutors as part of the plea deal.
Judge Ted Lympus handed down a sentence that was in line with the recommendations of prosecutors, who had asked for a 20-year prison sentence, with 15 years suspended, for burglary. Prosecutors recommend two 10-year suspended sentences for theft and criminal mischief to run concurrently, which the judge also followed.
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Klundt read a statement as part of his not guilty plea, apologizing to the owner of All Families Healthcare as part of the plea deal.
“I harmed and hurt many people by what I did last March, but no one was hurt more by my actions than Susan Cahill,” Klundt said, reported the Flathead Beacon. “It is true that I am pro-life… [but] what I did to you Susan does not reflect my values.”
The damaged caused by Klundt included smashed family photos, destroyed paperwork and medical equipment, patient files covered in iodine, and broken sewer lines. The damage was so severe that Cahill has been forced to close the clinic indefinitely.
“Zachary Klundt destroyed my office because he and his family are against abortions,” Cahill, a physician assistant who also managed the office, said while testifying at the hearing, reported the Flathead Beacon. “Destroying someone’s property because of a difference in beliefs is called terrorism.”
Judge Lympus also ordered Klundt to pay Cahill damages of $669,000.
The sentencing hearing began Tuesday and continued on Wednesday before concluding on Thursday.
Defense attorney Peter Leander called on witnesses to testify that Klundt had past struggles with drug addiction, but that he has changed since the incident. “He was a monster that night,” Klundt’s cousin, Dr. Mark Elliot, said, according to the Flathead Beacon. “But Zach is not a monster. What happened that night was the result of a heavy mix of drugs and depression.”
Leander made the case that the vandalism of the clinic was an effort by Klundt to find drugs. Leander said Klundt, who was being treated for anxiety and depression, had stopped taking his medications and began drinking heavily.
Kate Aly testified that her brother had mental issues that were never properly addressed and he was on a “crazy amount of antidepressants,” and that the separation from his wife had pushed him over the edge. “The divorce was devastating for Zach,” Kate Aly said, reported the Flathead Beacon. “March 1, 2014 would have been his sixth wedding anniversary and that was when he took a turn for the worst.”
Details emerged during the sentencing hearing this week that seemed to suggest that the vandalism of All Families Healthcare was not simply the action of a troubled young man, as he was portrayed by the defense.
Kalispell Police Department detective Capt. Scott Warnell, the investigating officer, testified that he had not seen such extensive property damage during his 21 years in law enforcement. He said that after Klundt was arrested, investigators found a series of text messages on his phone linked to the clinic vandalism.
Warnell testified that hours before the clinic break-in, Zachary Klundt sent a text message to his mother, Twyla Klundt, asking for the “abortionist’s name.” His mother responded with Susan Cahill’s name.
Twyla Klundt is a former board member of the local anti-choice crisis pregnancy center Hope Pregnancy Ministries. She resigned from Hope’s board after her son’s arrest.
Cahill previously told Rewire that she believed the break-in was part of a coordinated effort to intimidate the facility into no longer providing abortion care.
Cahill opened All Families Healthcare in August 2007. In early 2013, Cahill says she was approached by someone with connections to the Kalispell anti-choice Christian conservative community who offered her money to stop providing abortion services. She says she refused.
Then in November 2013, her landlord told her that he was selling the property and that she would have to find another location. Michelle Reimer, the executive director of Hope Pregnancy Ministries, and her husband had bought the property.
Cahill began seeing patients at the new location in February 2014, just weeks before it was vandalized.
NARAL Pro-Choice Montana executive director Maggie Moran said in a statement that Thursday’s sentencing sends a strong message that violence against abortion providers will not be tolerated.
“The threat to abortion providers is real—harassment, assaults, bombings, and assassinations—these are terrifying realities that people like Susan Cahill endure,” Moran said. “Not in the distant past, but every day. Part of the sentencing phase of our judicial system is designed to deter future criminals or violent acts. It was important to us that this case be taken very seriously.”
A report this year found that abortion clinics nationwide face significant threats, and that threats of violence against abortion providers have doubled since 2010.