The Disturbing Ruling in the Kansas Abortion Killing.

On Tuesday, a judge in Kansas ruled for the second time that he wouldn't bar Scott Roeder, the 51-year-old accused of killing the Kansas abortion provider George Tiller in May, from arguing that he believed he needed to kill Tiller to protect unborn children.

The judge, Warren Wilbert, denied prosecutors requests to bar such argument, which could lead to a conviction of voluntary manslaughter, a conviction that would carry a four to six year prison sentence, instead of murder. Wilbert said it would be improper for him to rule on it before the defense made its case, according to the report from McClatchy newspapers.

The Kansas statute defines voluntary manslaughter as the intentional killing of a human being committed "Upon a sudden quarrel or in the heat of passion," or "upon an unreasonable but honest belief that circumstances existed that justified deadly force." While it's difficult to easily find precedents for voluntary manslaughter convictions, it's not hard to imagine what it was designed for: immediate and unavoidable situations in which otherwise reasonable people do something that's unreasonable.

That's the kind of case FindLaw gives as an example: "Dan comes home to find his wife in bed with Victor. In the heat of the moment, Dan picks up a golf club from next to the bed and strikes Victor in the head, killing him instantly." Or even, say, killing someone when it looks like he or she is pulling a gun out of his or her pocket, and it turns out it's only a cell phone.

It's not easy to see how the law can be used to justify a religious belief that motivates a killing of a doctor who performs an entirely legal procedure, who, incidentally, was not about to perform an abortion the moment he was killed but was instead chatting in the foyer of his church. It wasn't in the heat of the moment, and there's no evidence, as the prosecutors said, of an imminent threat. But beside that, there are many contentious things the United States does with its money, many of which can lead to the death of a person who is indisputably already alive. You'd find a hard time finding similar support for a man or woman accused of killing a prison guard who regularly administers the chemicals that kill death row inmates.

If the judge goes so far as to instruct the jury on the lesser included offense, then it would seem to open up the door for people to regularly eschew responsibility for crimes they commit because they morally disagree with the law as it's laid down and interpreted. That would subvert the reasonable rule of law and allow the rule of something altogether different.

-- Monica Potts

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