Tyler Massengill, 32, wearing an orange jumpsuit from the Peoria County Jail, showed no emotion as the sentence was read aloud in court on Tuesday. He stood before the judge and apologized, saying he never meant to hurt anyone.
“I feel for the people who have lost their jobs. I’m not trying to play like I am [a] victim at this. I was sincerely hurt,” he said, noting that he thought his former girlfriend had aborted their unborn child at the clinic.
Prosecutors, however, said the woman told the FBI that Massengill’s story wasn’t true.
Massengill, from Chillicothe, further claimed that he suffered from addiction and mental issues, saying his life had spiraled out of control when he stopped taking his medication at the beginning of high school.
The second-floor courtroom of U.S. District Judge James Shadid was packed on Tuesday with federal courthouse workers, but also people from Planned Parenthood and from the office of U.S. Rep. Eric Sorensen.
In addition to Massengill’s prison sentence, Shadid ordered him to pay $1.45 million in restitution. Massengill must also serve at least 85% of his sentence. He has been in custody for just shy of seven months.
The sentencing hearing
On Feb. 16, about a month after the fire, Massengill waived indictment by a federal grand jury and pleaded guilty to malicious use of fire and an explosive to damage and attempt to damage the Planned Parenthood Peoria Health Center on Jan. 15.
He was caught fairly quickly as police, acting on several tips, were able to identify the suspect’s truck, which had two red doors and a white body. Massengill was taken into custody nine days later. When questioned, said he started the fire because he was mad that his former girlfriend had decided to have an abortion.
He told officials that if the arson caused a “little delay” for a person to receive services at the clinic, then it was “worth it,” the agreement states. Previously, in December 2020, he posted on social media about “smash(ing) planned parenthood” with “rocks,” according to the document.
He has remained in the custody of U.S. Marshals pending his sentencing.
The statutory limits for the charges were at least five years in prison and possibly up to 20 years. But the federal sentencing guideline range in Massengill’s case was 92 to 115 months in prison, according to court records.
Sentencing guidelines are not mandatory but rather a starting point for judges to begin their consideration. And it showed, as Shadid opted to sentence Massengill to more than 115 months.
The judge, when explaining his sentence, said that while he appreciated Massengill’s statements, they didn’t change the facts of the case.
“Is this simply the price that others have to pay when others become self-absorbed in their lives?” Shadid asked.
Shadid also noted that because of Massengill’s actions, several healthcare services to the Peoria community were not available. More than 4,000 patients, 75% of which were from the Tazewell or Peoria county area, were treated in the year before the fire.
“If it is possible to be both spontaneous and intentional at the same time, you achieved it,” Shadid said. “And to add to your accomplishments, there’s the striking of fear, stress and inconvenience to thousands of patients and employees from the many other Planned Parenthood facilities who wonder if they are next on the list of misguided people like you.”
Arguments by the attorneys
Assistant U.S. Attorney Ronald Hanna, Jr., played a video in court that showed Massengill filling up a container with gas, then walking to the building holding the soap container that was full of gas. He’s seen lighting it and then punching the window.
The video also shows the fire starting in the waiting area of the clinic and for several seconds, one can see the fire grow and smoke fill the waiting room. There is also body camera footage from the Peoria Fire Department which shows the view from a firefighter.
The damage to the building was extensive. The lobby was a charred mess, with firefighters having to pull down parts of the ceiling and the walls to put out the blaze.
The damage has been estimated at around $1 million.
During the sentencing hearing, Hanna read aloud from a report made by an FBI agent who spoke with Massengill’s ex-girlfriend. The woman told the agent she never had an abortion — the alleged event that Massengill provided as the reason for why he set the fire.
The prosecutor urged the judge for a stiff sentence, saying the nation can’t afford to have people who “smash windows and set fire to buildings.” Hanna also ticked through Massengill’s extensive criminal history, saying he picked up cases as young as 16. He was arrested, Hanna said, more than 30 times.
A common theme was the Chillicothe man’s inability to comply with probation, his turn to violence, and the fact that he was not able to finish three instances of residential drug treatment.
Massengill’s attorney Karl Bryning, meanwhile, was seeking a 5-year prison term. The attorney said his client had a long history of being abused and neglected. His mental illnesses, Bryning said, have been untreated over the years. His drug and alcohol abuse also played a factor, the attorney said.
For nearly 20 minutes, the attorney described Massengill’s alleged traumas, starting with childhood through his multiple suicide attempts and an intentional overdose. Massengill has also been diagnosed with ADHD, depression, substance abuse, and possible bipolar disorder, his attorney said.
The night of Jan. 15, Bryning said, Massengill had been to his father’s house. His father had been verbally and physically abusive for years to Massengill and was “100% against abortion.” It was in that context that Massengill, who lost his grandmother on Christmas Day 2022, wound up at a gas station and then went to the clinic.
Despite trying to cover up his actions, Massengill also went to the Peoria Police Department to confess to the crime, his attorney noted.
Planned Parenthood response
Officials with Planned Parenthood held a press conference after the sentencing, saying they were satisfied with the sentencing.
“10 years is a fair and just sentence, and we are very pleased with the actions of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and very grateful to all the law enforcement who were involved in this case,” said Jennifer Welch, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Illinois.
Sorensen, a Democrat, said it wasn’t time to celebrate but rather to stay focused on protecting the reproductive rights of those who need services from Planned Parenthood.
“No one should live in fear because they work in a place that provides essential reproductive care for those who need it,” the congressman said. “No one should be afraid of walking into a clinic to receive healthcare that they have a right to access. Violence will not be tolerated. We will not live in fear.”