Wichita Attorneys for a man convicted of murdering a high-profile abortion provider have asked a judge for a new trial or their client’s acquittal, arguing the judge was wrong when he failed to instruct jurors that they could consider the lesser offense of voluntary manslaughter.
A motion made public Monday also details a litany of adverse rulings against the defense during the murder case against Scott Roeder for the May 31 shooting death of Dr. George Tiller.
Such motions are routine, but important in preserving the court record on appeal issues. It is unlikely District Judge Warren Wilbert will reverse himself on his own rulings when he hears arguments on it on March 9, the same day he sentences Roeder for first-degree murder and aggravated assault.
Of far greater importance will be the opinion of the Kansas Supreme Court when it ultimately considers during the appeal whether the judge erred in keeping jurors from considering a voluntary manslaughter conviction — a decision that will shape the handling of homicide cases in Kansas for years to come. The high court will review the case because Roeder was convicted of first-degree murder.
In addition to contending the court may have erred in instructing jurors on the so-called voluntary manslaughter “imperfect self defense or defense of others,” the motion argued the court also may have erred in granting a prosecution motion to ban the so-called necessity defense, which may have led to an outright acquittal.
Other arguments for a new trial included adverse rulings to the defense involving motions to reconsider bond, throwing out subpoenas of defense witnesses, denial of a change of venue and various objections during trial, to name a few.
Roeder’s attorneys built their case — including putting their client on the witness stand — on the hope that Wilbert would allow jurors to consider a conviction on a lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter because Roeder sincerely believed he was defending unborn children.
Kansas law defines voluntary manslaughter as “an unreasonable but honest belief that circumstances existed that justified deadly force.”
But Wilbert rejected such a jury instruction on that lesser charge after ruling the defense failed show during its case that the doctor posed an “imminent threat” — by an objective standard — in the foyer of his church on a Sunday morning.
A key issue in the appeal will be whether imminent threat should be decided on an objective basis as ruled by the judge or on a subjective basis — as Roeder’s attorneys argued in claiming their client believed the threat was imminent.