Archive for Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Judge in trial of accused killer of George Tiller refuses to block manslaughter defense

January 12, 2010, 3:10 p.m. Updated January 12, 2010, 5:27 p.m.


— A judge turned away objections from prosecutors Tuesday, allowing confessed killer Scott Roeder the chance to build a defense to the slaying of a Kansas abortion provider based on his belief the action was justified to save unborn children.

Sedgwick County District Judge Warren Wilbert said it remains to be seen after the defense rests its case whether the evidence will suffice to instruct jurors that they can consider the lesser offense of voluntary manslaughter in the death of Dr. George Tiller.

“I am going to make every effort to try this case as a criminal, first-degree murder trial,” Wilbert said. “Admittedly Mr. Roeder’s beliefs may come into play and as a defendant he is entitled to present a defense.”

The judge said he would rule on a witness-by-witness, question-by-question basis as necessary throughout the trial on whether to allow jurors to hear specific evidence on Roeder’s beliefs about abortion.

“This is not going to be a debate about abortion,” Wilbert said, adding that attorneys will have to convince him at trial that any evidence offered in that regard will have to be part of what Roeder believed on May 31 when Tiller was killed.

Roeder has “a formidable and daunting task” to present such evidence, Wilbert said.

Tuesday’s hearing delayed the start of secret jury selection proceedings until Wednesday. Four media outlets, including The Associated Press, have asked the Kansas Supreme Court to overturn Wilbert’s decision to bar reporters from jury selection.

The facts of the case are not in dispute: As Sunday morning services were starting, Roeder got up from a pew at Wichita’s Reformation Lutheran Church and walked to the foyer, where Tiller and a fellow usher were chatting. He put the barrel of a .22-caliber handgun to Tiller’s forehead and pulled the trigger.

The 51-year-old Kansas City, Mo., man has publicly admitted to reporters and the court to killing Tiller. He also faces two counts of aggravated assault for allegedly threatening two ushers who tried to stop him from fleeing after the shooting. He has pleaded not guilty.

But what had been expected to be a straightforward trial was upended on Friday when Wilbert refused to bar Roeder’s lawyers from building the defense calling for a lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter. The judge prohibited only a so-called necessity defense that would argue Roeder should be acquitted because the doctor’s killing was necessary.

Kansas law defines voluntary manslaughter as “an unreasonable but honest belief that circumstances existed that justified deadly force.” A conviction could bring a prison sentence closer to five years, instead of a life term for first-degree murder.

The Kansas chapter of the National Organization for Women immediately condemned the judge’s decision, saying it opens the door for a society that would condone vigilantism and violence against abortion providers.

Prosecutors had filed a motion Monday saying the voluntary manslaughter defense is invalid because there is no evidence Tiller posed an imminent threat at the time of the killing.

The defense argued that the prosecution misinterpreted case law, saying any rulings about evidence should be made at the time of its presentation as is typical in any other criminal trial.

“This trial is going to be on TV, but it is not a TV trial — it is a real trial,” defense attorney Mark Rudy said.


Amy Heeter 8 years ago

This is a great day for children murdered in the womb.

somebodynew 8 years ago

And a sad day for the justice system (although it has had several through the years).

Leslie Swearingen 8 years ago

Kansas law defines voluntary manslaughter as “an unreasonable but honest belief that circumstances existed that justified deadly force.”

Isn't that what happened?

brujablanco 8 years ago

an eye for an eye chokie? You are very very scary. Irish - the answer to your question is NO, that is not what happened. He murdered an innocent man in cold blood, with premeditation

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 8 years ago

“an unreasonable but honest belief that circumstances existed that justified deadly force.”

If he gets away with it, I'd say there will never again be a first-degree murder conviction in Kansas, since almost any murder defendant (or their lawyers) could make the same claim.

jimmyjms 8 years ago

Exactly. Perhaps some abortion provider will find that he has an honest belief that Scott Roeder must die.

orbiter 8 years ago

artichokeheat somebodynew Irish

You guys should step up to the plate and start doing these assassinations yourself. A little prison time is tiny in the scheme of eternity. I'm sure you'll be rewarded for your pro-first-degree murder stance. Kill kill kill!!!!!

StirrrThePot 8 years ago

brujablanco (Anonymous) says…

an eye for an eye chokie? You are very very scary. Irish - the answer to your question is NO, that is not what happened. He murdered an innocent man in cold blood, with premeditation the victim attended church services. I doubt he was about to perform a late-term abortion right there during the homily.

I say this as someone who is against abortion:

This "defense" is BS. This whack job committed premeditated murder. If he is let off on manslaughter charges, he will undoubtedly kill again because he is a whack job extremist and that is what whack job extremists do. I find what Dr. Tiller did in his medical practice abhorrent, but that does mean his murder was justified.

Leslie Swearingen 8 years ago

I think the man is a murderer and should be punished according to the law. But, this law is worded very badly. It needs to be amended.

somebodynew 8 years ago

@orbiter - You have me totally mixed up. Maybe I didn't explain myself very well. I was responding in a negative way to artichoke. This is a sad day for criminal justice because this one Judge is making a ruling, that if stands, will affect a lot of future situations.

I firmly believe this is a premeditated murder and should be tried as such. Please don't group me in with the others you mentioned.

@Irish - I think (hope) you asked a legitimate question. So to put perspective on that, there should be a expectation that the harm is imminant, not some time, some day. Tiller was shot while he was at church, by a person who went there for that specific purpose. He didn't come across some situation that he mis-interrupted, he went there to kill. Plain and simple, and he should not get to present anything different.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 8 years ago

"This is a sad day for criminal justice because this one Judge is making a ruling, that if stands, will affect a lot of future situations."

My suspicion is that the judge is anticipating an insanity defense, and he's creating a middle ground for jurors who might not want to convict or acquit (on grounds of insanity) on a charge of first-degree murder.

Fred Whitehead Jr. 8 years ago

Dr Tiller had no trial. Roeder apointed himself judge, jury and exicutioner and committed cold blooded murder in full view of many witnesses. Just like in the old West.

So why does he even deserve a trial??

Hang him high.

Amy Heeter 8 years ago

Tiller had a trial but paid off the right people.

Kathy Theis-Getto 8 years ago

TIller had a trial? Via Phil Kline? OMG that's an hilarious thought process you've got going on there. I think bozo has it as right as we can figure out short of being in the judge's head. I agree with orbiter, step up to the plate artichoke and Irish, let's see what you're made of.

yankeelady 8 years ago

No matter which side of the pro choice/ anti choice side you subscribe too, this is very scary. Doesn't this open the door to anyone who commits murder of any sort claiming it was necessary in their beliefs?? You know, I killed so and so because I believed I was preventing him from doing something bad??

yourworstnightmare 8 years ago

Maybe I have too much faith in our criminal justice system, but I for one look forward to the defense trying to argue that Tiller was an imminent threat to human life.

The suicide bomber also believes that he is saving lives by blowing up american soldiers.

Evan Ridenour 8 years ago

"Irish (Irish Swearingen) says…

Kansas law defines voluntary manslaughter as “an unreasonable but honest belief that circumstances existed that justified deadly force.” –––––––––––––––––— Isn't that what happened?"

Still has to meet the justification defense requirements. Which as the prosecutor quoted in the article points out... a key requirement is that the threat was imminent. I think that will be impossible to prove considering Tiller was sitting in church at the time not standing over a fetus about to abort it. The way I am reading this case is that the judge is only ruling that he will not issue a blanket ban on the defense before getting an idea of the evidence that will be used to support it... not that it will be allowed. Seems like a good idea to me to try to ease the process of the inevitable appeal of the case even if it personally seems improbable to me that there is any evidence for it.

ebyrdstarr 8 years ago

The judge really hasn't ruled on anything yet. Voluntary manslaughter is a lesser included offense of first-degree murder. A judge will instruct the jury on lesser included offenses as justified by the evidence that comes out at trial. The judge and the parties get together at the close of evidence to discuss which instructions will be given. So, the judge has certainly not ruled that the jury will be instructed on voluntary manslaughter. All he has done is say to the defense that they can try to make their case for it, but as the judge said, the defense has a "formidable and daunting task."

The defense is being given a chance to try to prove that Roeder had this honest but unreasonable belief. The judge really can't say Roeder didn't have such a belief until he hears what Roeder has to say. Roeder has to have honestly believed a threat was imminent. Now, it's not enough that the threat was imminent by his standards. What he believed still has to meet the objective test of an imminent threat. So he won't get the instruction if all he says is that Dr. Tiller was going to go to work the next day. He'd have to say something like "I believed Dr. Tiller had a scalpel in his hand and a pregnant woman in front of him" or "I believed Dr. Tiller just said he was going to the bathroom to perform an abortion."

I doubt he will ultimately be able to testify in such a way that the judge will instruct the jury on voluntary manslaughter.

Jimo 8 years ago

"Voluntary manslaughter," often thought of as a lesser form of murder justified by a "heat of passion" defense states in full relevant language that is correctly applied "upon an unreasonable but honest belief that circumstances existed that justified deadly force under K.S.A. 21-3211." The charge must be "justified," that is, capable of being a valid defense for killing but for the mistake. To be capable of being a valid defense under K.S.A. 21-3211 requires in turn that "a person is justified in the use of deadly force ... if such person reasonably believes deadly force is necessary to prevent [or to defend against] imminent death or great bodily harm to such person or a third person."

Roeder's defense fails to meet the stated standard twice: 1. A person as involved and obsessed with the anti-abortion fight will never be able to convince the court that he did not understand that the law does not classify the unborn as a person. 2. There is absolutely no imminent threat possible to the unborn on a quiet Sunday morning in a church and therefore no honest mistake could be made of such. (I suspect there'll be plenty of premeditation evidence available to also undermine this claim.)

Adopting Roeder's interpretation would turn the statute into a 'terrorism get out of jail (almost) free card.'

(Again, I ask, why has the U.S. Attorney not indicted Roeder for terrorism?)

madcow 8 years ago

They need to stop wasting tax dollars dragging this case out.

Lock him up and throw away the key.

Jonathan Becker 8 years ago

What imminent harm was Dr. Tiller going to cause? He was ushering in a church, fer Christ's sake (with due apologies to J.D. Salinger for that reference). All I have seen an usher do is seat people, give them a bulletin, and take up the collection. Which of those imminent functions was a threat?

Matt Torres 8 years ago

Scott Roeder is a terrorist. He violently and premeditatedly murdered someone in public because of long-held ideologically extreme beliefs. He did it to make an example of Mr. Tiller and to instill fear. That is EXACTLY what terrorism is.

Personally, I'm pretty sure that if this judge is even halfway reasonable, this "voluntary manslaughter" crap won't stand at all. This guy didn't drive 3+ hours down to Wichita on a "heat of the moment" whim because someone called him saying George Tiller was coming to get them. He knew exactly what he was doing. He executed Tiller with a calculated, cold-blooded point-blank bullet to the head.

He did this with dozens of witnesses around in a church ffs. There's no WAY he didn't WANT people to know it was him and WANT people to see it! That's terror, people!

true_patriot 8 years ago

"The sound of the shot probably makes you jump. Me? I never miss. "

What a joke. No one never misses. And you need to find a better dialog writer for the chest-beating hero moment that comes off as maximum corn even for a throw-away flick from the 60's.

notajayhawk 8 years ago

Jimo (Anonymous) says…

"Adopting Roeder's interpretation would turn the statute into a 'terrorism get out of jail (almost) free card.'"

A tad premature, don't you think? The judge has not set the defendant free, or even ruled that he can't be convicted of first degree murder. He merely allowed the defense to argue that a lesser charge should be considered.

Seriously - if Bin Laden were to go on trial tomorrow for 9/11, and the judge ruled that the jury could consider a manslaughter conviction instead of the more serious charges, do you really think a jury would opt for the lesser charge?

notajayhawk 8 years ago

beobachter (Anonymous) says…

"actually roeder should be treated like he treated tiller. any volunteers besides me."

I don't suppose you're bright enough to see the irony of your statement, are you?

Liberty275 8 years ago

Since when can judges block any defense strategy? While I understand why a judge might be able to strike down statements or disallow questions unrelated to the accusations, the defense strategy should be decided only between a defendant and his attorney. If a judge can disallow one defense, he can disallow them all, in effect summarily pronouncing guilt and punishment.

The matter of guilt based on the effectiveness of any defense should be left to the jury and not to a swollen ego dressed in a black robe.

This isn't soviet America yet.

Liberty275 8 years ago

"DI's only chewed on ass that needed it."

I saw a recruit shoved into a sprawling cactus in boot camp in 1980 at fort bliss in texas because he told the DI he wasn't going to do any more laps around the parade field carrying the attitude log (two feet of telephone pole). It messed him up pretty bad, but I doubt he ever mouthed off to a DI after leaving the hospital.

The DIs had a pretty cool out back then. Each person in our platoon had a "buddy" (which was always the person the DIs figured would hate you the most and vice versa) and if you screwed up heinously, you had to put on boxing gloves and go a few rounds with your buddy. Training... LOL.

My wife's niece recently graduated basic training in missori and I was shocked at how easy they had it. They ran in tennis shoes and did PT under a shade. We ran in combat boots and did all our PT under the texas sun in july.

Bruce Liddel 8 years ago

Leave it to the lawyers to defend people killing people in the name of religion. So much hatred. So much killing. A pox on all their houses...

brett conrad 8 years ago

I love all these PROLIFE people supporting murder. Maybe we should go back to the wild wild west and shoot it out if i disagree with the LAW. BETTER GO GET YOUR CONCEAL AND CARRY PERMIT QUICK.

Jimo 8 years ago

"Since when can judges block any defense strategy?"

Judges don't. The Legislature and the Governor in passing this statute did.

I thought you said once you were a law student. Obviously, that cannot be correct if you don't grasp the basic elements of our legal system. A trial is a forum for the court to review relevant facts in a case, not a forum for free publicity on any topic the accused wishes to expound upon. The taxpayers are on the hook to provide this minimum constitutional due process, not to provide an open-mic for a night at the improv!

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