Thursday, January 28, 2010

I came across this article in the WSJ today... ProLife seems to mean only selectively for some, but not for all.

WICHITA, Kan.—Murder defendant Scott Roeder said in court Thursday he approached abortion provider George Tiller in church last May and shot him in the forehead. Then he sought to tell the jury why.

Speaking in a measured voice, Mr. Roeder told the jury he considered abortion to be murder. "It is not man's job to take life," he said. Scott Roeder, at his murder trial Thursday in Wichita, Kan., testified he killed Dr. George Tiller in May. A moment later, Mr. Roeder amended that slightly: "It is never up to man to take life. Only in the case of defense of self or defense of others."

Mr. Roeder's attorneys were seeking to prove that he killed the well-known physician out of an honest, even if unreasonable, belief that he had no other option but to use deadly force to protect others—in this case, fetuses—from an imminent threat.

Under Kansas law, that could fit the definition of "voluntary manslaughter," a less serious charge than first-degree murder.

But Judge Warren Wilbert ruled Thursday evening he would not let the jury consider lesser charges because Dr. Tiller posed no imminent danger to anyone as he stood in church that Sunday morning. The judge also pointed out that abortion was legal, and said there was no evidence that Dr. Tiller was in any way breaking the law in his practice.

The prosecution spent 3 1/2 days presenting evidence that Mr. Roeder purchased a gun, test-fired it and repeatedly visited Dr. Tiller's church in the weeks before the fatal shooting. Investigators testified that they found a calendar in Mr. Roeder's home that highlighted the date of May 31—the date Dr. Tiller was fatally shot with a .22-caliber handgun as he welcomed latecomers to the morning service at Reformation Lutheran Church here.

Mr. Roeder, who was the only witness for the defense, told the jury he did not dispute the prosecution's evidence.

"Why did you kill him?" asked Mark Rudy, the public defender.

"If someone did not stop George Tiller, he was going to continue as he had for 36 years," Mr. Roeder said. "The babies. They were going to continue to die."

In his opening statement, defense lawyer Steve Osburn said Mr. Roeder had grown steadily more frustrated over the years by the continued operation of Dr. Tiller's abortion clinic, which drew patients from across the country.

Mr. Osburn chronicled various efforts by antiabortion protestors to force Dr. Tiller to shut his practice, from protests and prayers to violence. The clinic was bombed in 1986; thousands of protesters blockaded the clinic in 1991; Dr. Tiller was shot in both arms in 1993—and none of this "stopped him at all," Mr. Osburn said.

Last spring, a jury acquitted Dr. Tiller on 19 misdemeanor counts of violating the state's late-term abortion laws. Mr. Roeder attended that trial, and after Dr. Tiller's acquittal, he "grew more and more frustrated with the situation," Mr. Osburn said, and began to believe that "if Dr. Tiller was going to be stopped … it was up to him."

But on cross-examination, Mr. Roeder acknowledged he had made up his mind as early as 1993 to kill Dr. Tiller.

Mr. Roeder said he considered various plans, including hiding on a roof opposite Dr. Tiller's clinic to pick him off with a sniper rifle, crashing his car into Dr. Tiller's, or trying to get close enough to the physician to chop off his hands with a sword.

He said he settled on shooting Dr. Tiller at close range in his church. He visited the church several times, first to scope it out and then to find Dr. Tiller, bringing along both his Bible and his handgun.

Sedgwick County District Attorney Nola Foulston also asked Mr. Roeder about his decision to pull over to the roadside as he was fleeing the church and bury his gun—which was still loaded—in a gravel pile in a small town about 100 miles from Wichita. She asked if he worried that children might stumble upon the gun and possibly get hurt. "No," he said. "It was very remote." The handgun has never been recovered.

Judge Warren Wilbert has said repeatedly that he would not let the trial turn into a referendum on abortion. Several times, when Mr. Roeder veered into graphic descriptions of abortion, the judge stopped him and instructed the jury to disregard the remarks.

But Judge Wilbert also made clear that he had an obligation to allow Mr. Roeder the chance to defend himself.

"He can certainly testify…[about] his belief system and how he moved to the point that he felt it was necessary for him to take the actions that he took," the judge said.

Supporters of legal abortion have protested that the court was allowing Mr. Roeder too much leeway; they argued that permitting the jury to consider lesser charges would have been tantamount to sanctioning politically motivated murders.

Abortion opponents have also been speaking out, arguing that the judge is unfairly limiting Mr. Roeder's right to present a full defense.

"Scott," Mr. Rudy asked his client, "do you regret what you did?" Mr. Roeder answered, "No."

Write to Stephanie Simon at

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