The murder of Jim Pouillon occurred on September 11, 2009. Activist James Pouillon and businessman Michael Fuoss were each shot by the same killer, at separate locations. Pouillon was killed while protesting abortion in front of Owosso High School in Owosso, Michigan, evidently the first time someone had been murdered while doing so. Police arrested Harlan James Drake and charged him with both crimes. Drake was later convicted of two counts of first-degree murder, and was subsequently sentenced to two life sentences.
Jim Pouillon was a well-known Michigan activist and member of Operation Save America. An elderly man dependent on an oxygen tank to breathe, he had been protesting abortion since 1988. On the day he was shot, Pouillon was leading a protest across the street from Owosso High School in Owosso, Michigan.
Shooting and arrest
During the protest, Pouillon was shot at 7:20 a.m. EDT by a gunman in a passing vehicle. One witness recorded the vehicle's license plate number. Meanwhile, police were alerted to another murder, of businessman Michael Fuoss at a gravel business he owned. An hour after Pouillon's shooting, police located and arrested the owner of the vehicle, Harlan James Drake. Drake indicated he had shot both victims.
Pouillon's murder was evidently the first time an activist had ever been killed while protesting abortion. Authorities said Fuoss was not connected to the pro-life movement. Police said Drake was offended by pro-life material that Pouillon had displayed across from the school for the previous week. A Center for Reproductive Rights spokesperson said the shooting did not seem to be tied to the abortion debate and that Drake was not a pro-choice activist. Drake himself said that he killed Pouillon because he (Drake) and his (Drake's) mother were offended by the fact that Pouillon was displaying a bloody, gory sign near a school where children could see it.
While in custody awaiting trial, Drake attempted suicide by breaking a TV and using the broken glass to cut his wrists. Before the trial, Drake said he shot Pouillon because his (Drake's) mother and nieces were upset by Pouillon's graphic sign, which Drake felt should not be displayed near children. In 2004, Drake was involved — but not legally responsible — in a motor-vehicle accident that killed two teenagers. Drake's attorney, Robert Ashley, argued that Drake suffered from depression stemming from the crash and was therefore mentally incompetent at the time of the murders. On September 30, 2009 Drake was deemed incompetent to stand trial and was remanded into the custody of the Michigan Department of Mental Health. Drake was later declared fit to stand trial. Drake testified about how he committed the murder, and even cracked jokes during his testimony. His testimony proved to be very damaging to his case. On March 11, 2010, the jury returned a verdict of guilty on both counts of first-degree murder.
Several pro-life groups and leaders have deemed Pouillon a martyr. Lori Lamerand, president of Planned Parenthood East Central Michigan, stated the killing was tragic and expressed concerns that people would retaliate. President Barack Obama has called the killing "deplorable" and stated that, "whichever side of a public debate you're on, violence is never the right answer." Pouillon's funeral was held at the Owosso High School football stadium.
Poullion's family gave conflicting descriptions of him. His daughter Mary Jo Pouillon said of him, "He didn't want to hurt anyone that hadn't hurt him or his family," adding, "They're talking about the babies today. That's what he'd say." She sang in a memorial service that drew pro-life activists from across the country. His estranged son Dr. James M. Pouillon wrote, "It will be impossible for some to believe, but my dad really didn't care about aborton [sic]. He did this to stalk, harass, terrorize, scream at, threaten, frighten, and verbally abuse women ... He was at the high shool [sic] because my niece was there, and female family members were always his favorite targets."