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Ulrich Guilty on All Counts After Day of Emotional Testimony and Argument

Legal teams lay out conflicting motives, state prevails

Gregory Ulrich has been convicted of all charges following a morning that included his testimony in the trial for the mass shooting at the Buffalo Allina Crossroads Clinic on February 9, 2021. The events of that day rocketed Buffalo into national headlines and left our community to pick up the pieces. After three weeks of proceedings and six hours of deliberation, a Wright County jury decided Ulrich was wholly responsible and entered the clinic with the intent to kill.

Ulrich was faced with 11 counts, the most serious of which were one count of first-degree murder and four counts of attempted first-degree murder. While Ulrich openly admitted he perpetrated the attack, his defense contested the degree of planning before Ulrich opened fire at the clinic. Per Minnesota statute, “premeditation and with intent to effect the death of the person or of another” must be proved to convict on the count of first-degree murder, a charge that carries a mandatory life sentence.

Lindsay Overbay was killed and four other nurses injured when Ulrich opened fire at the clinic. He had previously been in conflict with the clinic employees over prescription painkillers. Ulrich was represented by public defender Virginia Murphrey and her partner. Wright County Attorney Brian Lutes and Assistant Attorney Shane Simonds represented the state.

The trial has been emotional for the whole community but most of all so for those connected with the clinic and its staff. Yesterday brought emotional testimony from victims and their families and today included a strong courtroom showing from Dr. Andrew Burgdorf and Allina clinic staff who watched from the front row, some hugging and crying during courtroom breaks. Today brings more closure to a community that has sought to come together after this tragedy, offering new mental health resources and recently hosting a community event and health fair on the one-year anniversary of the attack. Many hope this verdict will allow Buffalo to move forward and focus on the future.

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The Wright County Courthouse, the site of the Ulrich trial, on June 2nd, 2022. This new facility opened adjacent to the Wright County Jail to allow easy transfer of inmates during proceedings.

Matthew Scherber

The Defense

The day began with a series of questions posed by both Ulrich’s public defender and Judge McPherson to make certain Ulrich understood his rights under the 5th amendment and that he had decided to testify without coercion. The previous day, Ulrich had asked to leave the courtroom as he was in great pain and would prefer to lie down in an adjacent room. McPherson denied his request, saying it was important that Ulrich be present for the day’s testimony, including that of the surviving shooting victims and Lindsay’s sister.

McPherson questioned Ulrich regarding his choice to testify, “Can you think clearly and understand everything that is going on?” “I understand everything that is going on and have thought about it for a year.”

The 68-year-old Ulrich wore an untucked blue button-down shirt and sat feebly in his wheelchair beside his attorneys.

After a brief period, McPherson asked if either party had anything for the record before the jury was brought in. Ulrich’s defense team made a motion for a mistrial citing
the “prejudicial impact” of shootings around the nation “in Buffalo, NY, the same name as this city, and yesterday at a medical facility” claiming the connections make a fair trial for Ulrich impossible.

Lutes argued “I don’t think there is any basis for a mistrial. I think the jury will decide this case based on information and evidence provided.” McPherson agreed and the proceedings continued.

The jury of 16 entered the courtroom and took their seats. This number was later cut to 12 as four were dismissed as alternates.

As Ulrich, the day’s only witness took the stand he began to recount his battles with severe pain and troubles obtaining prescription painkillers. Ulrich explained he has scoliosis and that the pain started after a scaffold accident in 1977, leaving him with a lesioned disc. Continuing to seek treatment for his condition, around 2015 Ulrich claims to have begun requesting oxycodone after 30 years without the drug.

The 2016 Allina nurses strike postponed Ulrich’s scheduled surgery, which was eventually completed that December. After his procedure, Ulrich was prescribed painkillers on a short-term basis. “I started weaning about 5% a day. I was given enough pain medication, if I followed the prescription strictly, for 5 days but it lasted me 10 days before I ran out,” Ulrich testified.

A nurse began making daily visits to Ulrich’s Buffalo residence to check on his prescription usage. “I didn’t trust her,” said Ulrich. “I told her not to look at my medications” Ulrich explained he took many medications for a variety of conditions such as gout, neuropathy, and allergies, as well as to regulate his blood pressure and heart rate.

“She was snooping around looking in my refrigerator and my room,” said Ulrich. “We got into a dispute over where I had hidden my narcotics.”

Ulrich repeatedly veered off-topic and ignored the objections of Assistant Wright County Attorney Shane Simonds, prompting McPherson to admonish him, “Mr. Ulrich, when he says objection you have to stop talking.”

He explained that his pain intensified after he ran out of pills and his nurse refused to refill the prescription, accusing him of abusing his medication. “She left and four hours later I was in so much pain I couldn’t even reach the telephone,” said Ulrich. “I screamed,” he added, indicating no one came to his aid.

In a long exchange that drew several relevance objections from the prosecution, Ulrich recounted an ordeal during which he was brought to a Minneapolis hospital and held, as he claims, against his will for seven days. In the hospital, his health deteriorated further. “It got worse, I got an injury in the hospital to my spine, ” said Ulrich. “I was trying to commit suicide because the pain was so bad.”

When he returned home, Ulrich asked the doctor about receiving pain medication, a request he denied. Ulrich says he was unaware he had been labeled as a drug seeker. According to the Star Tribune, Ulrich continued to contact Allina in hopes of obtaining opioids and eventually began threatening acts of violence toward the clinic and physician Dr. Andrew Burgdorf.

Desperate, Ulrich admitted in court to sending letters to as many as 50 doctors seeking medication. After repeated denials, he began sending letters to elected officials and law enforcement including Buffalo’s mayor, Buffalo PD, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, the Wright County Sheriff’s Office, and “even the White House, even Trump.” No one would help him in his struggle to obtain opioids.

“My life was over, I was dead as far as I was concerned,” Ulrich said. “If I was dead I had nothing to worry about. […] My life was over. No fishing, no canoeing, just laying in bed crying and having bad dreams.”

After five years of writing letters, Ulrich gave up and turned to plotting his attack.

The Attack

Defense attorneys next shifted to discussing the details of the attack. When asked why he went to the clinic the morning of February 9th, Ulrich replied, “I intended property damage […] I had to bring attention to what these people had done to me and I had all the documentation. I wanted to inform the public.” Ulrich claimed to have brought the gun as it was the easiest way to take out the windows. He wanted to attract as much attention to his crusade as possible, and also said he believed insurance would cover the cost of any damages. “I wanted to sensationalize it and get more attention, get it in the papers,” said Ulrich. “I would like people to understand what that pain is like without pain mediation.”

Ulrich said he had “one bullet for each person but after the first bullet I lost control of the situation […] I shot as little as I could and if I hit anything I stopped.”

By the time Ulrich stopped shooting five Allina employees lay bleeding, their bodies perforated with bullet holes. Lindsay Overbay was pierced from behind as she fled toward a side door, the bullet severing Lindsay’s spine and destroying her liver, causing her to bleed out on the clinic floor.

Ulrich said he returned to the front of the building to retrieve his briefcase and began setting his pipe bombs to detonate around the building. Next, he shot out the windows in the clinic lobby while calling 911, telling police “I would send ambulances, we have critical spine injuries.”

The defense maintained that Ulrich was only interested in causing property damage and did not intend to kill anyone that day. At the end of their direct examination, the defense asked Ulrich why he chose not to include nails in the pipe bombs he detonated. Ulrich replied, “I didn’t want people to be hurt.”

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District Judge McPherson's bench in the courtroom used for the Ulrich trial. From here, she presided over the trial and directed the proceedings. This photo was taken during a guided courthouse tour March 3, 2022.

Matthew Scherber

The Case Against Ulrich

The prosecution began by laying out the steps Ulrich took to prepare for his attack. They highlighted his purchases of a Smith and Wesson 9mm handgun, ammunition, and pipe bomb supplies in the months prior.

During cross-examination, Ulrich admitted to shooting Tamera Schaufler at close range and then traveling down the hallway where he claims to have seen three more Allina employees, shooting two of them.

When asked if he knew Overbay prior to the incident or if she had ever provided him with medical care, Ulrich replied “No, just her company. I had no idea who she was.”

As previously testified, victim Sherry Curtis was treated for six gunshot wounds at the hospital although Ulrich maintained he only shot her once, claiming it was “Six holes from one bullet.” At this, several jurors appeared visibly confused.

Ulrich admitted to shooting each of the victims individually when asked by the prosecution. Afterward, the prosecution rested its case.

Closings

After a short break, Judge McPherson read the charges jury instructions to the jurors before the prosecution began its closing statement.

Dr. Andrew Burgdorf, a prominent Allina clinician previously threatened by Ulrich, and over a dozen Allina staff members, many clad in scrubs, sat in the front rows of the courtroom during closing arguments.

Brian Lutes began the state’s passionate closing remarks “Innocent defenseless victims were critically injured because of the defendant’s senseless attack. The defendant got a pistol, got on the trailblazer, arrived early at the clinic, and shot five nurses, Lindsay Overbay being one of them.”

Lutes continued, “The natural and probable consequence of shooting someone in the torso is someone dying […] You need only look at what happened to Lindsay Overbay to see the truth of that statement. […] He doesn’t get to decide with his words after the fact that he didn’t mean to kill Lindsay Overbay. He doesn’t get to decide that with his word when his actions show otherwise.”

Referencing the duty put on his legal team to prove Ulrich’s guilt, he said “The state has a heavy burden in this case and I accept that burden. Presumption of innocence is just that, a presumption, and it is a presumption that can be overcome, and we have overcome it in this case.”

“Don’t be fooled for a second that that man cares for the people she had shot on his 911 call,” cautioned Lutes. “You don’t purposely shoot innocent defenseless victims and pretend to care about them.”

Assistant Attorney Shane Simonds reminded the jurors, “Remember him talking about sensationalism, it’s sad but it’s true, the more that you kill the more sensational it is going to get.”

The prosecution re-aired several exhibits including photos of the destruction inside the clinic after the attack and a video of Ulrich in December 2020 when he spoke outlandishly saying “You picked on the wrong person. […] Anyone over 80 should have a special license for super leniency when it comes to narcotics because when you’re 80 what do you got to lose. Pain causes people to be violent […] Grab your f***ing pistol and go down there and kill as many nurses as you can.”

Simonds continued, “When he draws his handgun on each person, that’s premeditation, when he enters the employee area, that’s premeditation, when he prowls the back hallway, that’s premeditation, when he raises his gun, that’s premeditation. […] His intent was to destroy and his intent was to kill.”

Finally, becoming slightly emotional, Simonds said, “It’s not rash or unconsidered, it is the opposite, this is as premeditated as it gets. […] The presumption one has when you are shooting at someone is that you are going to kill them and you are da** lucky if you don’t.”

The defense laid out a comparatively brief closing that included the playing of Ulrich’s February 9th, 2021 911 call. They cited his willingness to surrender and calls for an ambulance as signs he didn’t want bloodshed. Murphrey claimed “His plan to go there was to create havoc and get publicity” but not to kill.

“The evidence is that as convoluted as this plan was, that as cruel as this plan was, it was to get attention and press and that is what happened. But it is not premeditated murder.”

She concluded somberly, “Perhaps the reason [for the 911 call] was that after he had done it he realized they were human beings, not just Allina.”

The case was then turned over to the jurors who after an afternoon of deliberations convicted Ulrich on all counts. Sentencing will be held on June 17.

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