After deliberating for just 37 minutes, a jury in Kansas found Scott Roeder guilty of murder in the killing of George Tiller, a Kansas doctor who performed late-term abortions.
Shortly before, Judge Warren Wilbert ruled the jury would not be allowed to consider a voluntary manslaughter charge. That was despite a ruling earlier this month, in which Wilbert said he wouldn't block Roeder's attorneys from bringing up a voluntary manslaughter defense, a lesser charge that allows defendants to argue they had an unreasonable but honest belief that deadly force was necessary. The lesser charge would have carried a roughly five-year sentence, had he been convicted.
What was so disturbing about the previous ruling, and what makes it such a relief that the lesser charge is off the table, is that almost any belief is honest. If we start saying that unreasonable but honest beliefs justify deadly force in a way that makes them less than murder, the logical end road is that we start to justify almost any murder motivated by a difference in values or beliefs. But, thankfully, the second clause of the statute, that the killer has to feel deadly force is necessary, ruled the day. Courts had interpreted that to mean there was an unreasonable but honest belief that someone was in imminent danger, and Wilbert said there was no imminent threat from Tiller, who was in his church. Second-degree murder also was off the table because Roeder elaborated on the stand on how he'd thought of several ways to stop Tiller, including cutting off his hands.
What the previous ruling did, though, is allow the jury, and the public, to hear Roeder in a way that might make them more sympathetic to his cause.
Testifying as the lone defense witness, Roeder calmly explained what he admitted publicly months ago — that he killed Tiller to save unborn children.
'Those children were in immediate danger if someone did not stop George Tiller,' Roeder said as the jury watched attentively but without a hint of surprise.
'They were going to continue to die,' he said. 'The babies were going to continue to die.'
For decades, most Americans supported a woman's right to choose, though that support has evened and the country is split down the middle, according to a new poll. Where it gets most difficult is when you start talking about babies, and the closer a woman gets to the end of her pregnancy the harder it is to make the distinction between a would-be infant and an actual one. For anti-abortion advocates, it doesn't matter that fewer than 1 percent of abortions happen after the 21st week, and doctors who perform them say the vast majority are for defects that are life-threatening to either the fetus or the mother. All you have to do is start talking about babies. That's why letting Roeder say that on the stand is so disheartening.
-- Monica Potts