After vociferously denying a "necessity defense" could be mounted in the case of Scott Roeder, the man accused of shooting Kansas doctor George Tiller in May, the public defender representing Roeder is fighting prosecutors' efforts to ban the so-called necessity defense from his trial.
After vociferously denying a “necessity defense” could be mounted in the case of Scott Roeder, the man accused of shooting Kansas doctor George
Tiller in May, the public defender representing Roeder is fighting prosecutors’ efforts to ban the so-called necessity
defense from his trial, reports the Wichita Eagle.
The Eagle reports:
Defense attorneys for Scott Roeder
filed a motion arguing he has a right to present his defense. Roeder
has publicly said his shooting of Tiller was justified to save “unborn
The defense motion made public Monday seemingly
contradicts public statements by public defender Steve Osburn that such
a necessity defense did not exist in Kansas law. Osburn declined to
clarify the discrepancy, but suggested he may have used the media to
confuse prosecutors as to his defense strategy.
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A cross-examination by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) in U.S. District Court on Thursday highlighted inconsistencies among testimony, a court deposition, and arguments from anti-abortion activist Angel Dillard and her defense team.
The proceedings in Wichita were part of a case that began in 2011 after the DOJ filed a civil lawsuit against Dillard for sending an threatening letter to a local physician, Dr. Mila Means.
Dillard told Means in that letter that she might find an explosive under her car and that members of the anti-abortion movement would do everything they could to stop her from providing abortion care.
At the time, Means had been training to become an abortion provider. She would have been the first doctor to offer the abortion care in Wichita after Dillard’s associate, Scott Roeder, murdered abortion provider Dr. George Tiller in 2009.
The court expected a jury verdict following closing statements on Thursday, but members the eight-person jury said they needed more time to deliberate. Dillard will pay about $20,000 in total if the jury rules in the DOJ’s favor.
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The government’s lawsuit is centered on the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act, a federal law passed in 1994 to prevent threats against abortion providers or interference with access to abortion clinics. Dillard’s defense has argued that the letter is protected under the First Amendment.
In the cross-examination, which began late Wednesday and was led by attorney and DOJ Special Litigation Section Deputy Chief Julie Abbate, Dillard revealed to jurors that she first visited Roeder independently and not as part of a church ministry, as her defense implied earlier this week.
Donald McKinney, Dillard’s former defense attorney, had relied on the activist’s “ministerial” or “priest-penitent” privileges to limit information about her communications with Roeder from becoming public in 2013. Her defense took similar actions in court this week.
Dillard provided contradictory information about an oft-quoted 2009 interview she had with Associated Press reporter Roxana Hegeman. Dillard said in that interview that Roeder, “with one move,” had accomplished “what we had not been able to do.”
“So he followed his convictions and I admire that,” Dillard said.
Although Dillard said Thursday that the quotation was taken out of context, she said in her sworn out-of-court testimony that she believed Hegeman quoted her accurately.
Dillard in the cross-examination acknowledged that one could receive a letter from someone who provides their name and address and does not explicitly state, “I will harm you,” and still feel threatened.
The acknowledgement emerged days after Dillard’s legal defense team repeatedly noted that Dillard provided her name and address on the letter to Means to argue the absence of a “true threat.”
Abbate questioned Dillard about a protective court order she filed after receiving a disconcerting letter from a Kansan inmate. In stating her reasons for the order, Dillard reportedly told authorities issuing the protective order that her family was afraid because they didn’t know what the sender looked like.
Dillard on Thursday acknowledged that the sender made references to her sister’s home and other personal information that frightened her.
Abbate did not name the inmate or provide further details to jurors, but in 2013, several news outlets, including theAssociated Press and the Wichita Eagle, acknowledged aconflict between Dillard and the letter writer, Robert Campbell.
Campbell, who had been lodged in Sedgwick County Jail at the time, reportedly tried to blackmail Dillard by telling authorities she asked him to firebomb Means’ house in 2012. He told authorities he had backed out of the plot and feared Dillard would act out of revenge.
Dillard said Thursday that she barely remembered the incident, when first questioned about the letter and the court order she filed.
“That was quite a few years ago,” Dillard said.
Dillard’s husband, who is alocal emergency room physician, also took the stand on Thursday. Dr. Robert Dillard told his wife’s defense attorney, Theresa Sidebotham, that he did not participate in the anti-abortion movement.
Dillard’s defense team on Thursday made another attempt to have Judge J. Thomas Marten close the case after he dismissed the jury for a break, but Marten declined.
In spite of growing opposition to the unpopular and extreme policies being passed by the state’s conservative legislature, Kansans most generally stay at home and keep their opinions to themselves. This undue politeness, also known as “Kansas nice,” often renders the good people of Kansas silent. All of that changed, however, when the public school teachers of the state recently converged upon their capitol building in Topeka and collectively stated, “No more Kansas nice.”
The teachers’ outcry was in reaction to a proposed school-funding bill that was drafted to comply with a Kansas Supreme Court ruling. The ruling ordered the legislature to equalize school funding between districts by providing additional funding for poorer school districts. The court encouraged the legislature to revert back to the education formulary that had been relied upon for years to offset disparities caused by reliance on local property taxes. This equalization mechanism had been abandoned by Gov. Sam Brownback’s legislature during the recession, and instead massive tax cuts for the wealthy were passed.
The court ruling was made in response to a lawsuit brought against the state on the grounds that suitable funding for schools, as required by the Kansas Constitution, was not being provided. Those who brought the suit did not view Gov. Brownback’s “real live experiment” with great fondness. His “experiment” to drastically cut state income taxes, with higher income earners receiving the highest cuts, and to offset those cuts by cutting core state services, is what precipitated the school funding lawsuit.
Alan Rupe, the lawyer representing schools, argued that the Legislature’s own actions undercut the argument that the recession forced the cuts. Rupe said lawmakers cut $511 million per year from the schools and at the same time passed an income tax cut worth $2.5 billion through 2018.
In Kansas, the term “small government” has become politically popularized to the point of romantic adoration among those who prescribe to the notion. So the fact that the initial ruling was even being complied with by the legislature, to avoid the closure of schools, was met with some relief. Teachers and other supporters of public education welcomed the consideration and appropriation of additional funding by the state.
These additional politically motivated and unnecessary components, which were crafted to appease their campaign financiers, included a reduction in property taxes for families that home-school or pay for private schooling; tax credits for corporations that fund scholarships for low-income students to attend private school; the removal of funding for the teaching of Common Core educational standards, which have been an anti-public school education rallying point for Tea Party fear-mongering since their inception in 2009; and the elimination of due process and tenure rights for school teachers. Due process rights for teachers, once teachers reach the point of tenure, can protect them from being fired under the auspices of a wide range of trumped up allegations and undue dismissals by offering the option to have a review of their peers prior to dismissal.
The original education bill was extreme enough that the Kansas House of Representatives voted it down and worked in conference committee to remove the proposed defund of Common Core implementation of local school districts, along with the removal of the proposed private and home school property tax credits. The legislature did hold fast to presenting and passing a final bill that includes the corporate scholarship tax credits and the elimination of teacher tenure. While the furthering of Kansas corporate welfare at a time when inequity and underfunding in the public school system exists appears seemingly untenable, the attack on the due process rights of beloved and respected schoolteachers is seen as abhorrent.
The backlash of Kansans has been swift and quite public. Legislative leaders scrambled to defend the bill, claiming that it “wasn’t as harsh as portrayed.” Then later in the week were forced to recant their statement and admit that the “district is no longer required to document specific reason for the termination.”
Teachers are understandably fearful about their future ability to teach, work, and thrive in Kansas with great uncertainty about the true effects that the legislation will have upon their contracts. Thomas Witt from the state’s gay rights advocacy group, Equality Kansas, relayed the following concern to lawmakers regarding the legislation:
In my work as executive director for Equality Kansas, I have talked to several teachers whose jobs were threatened when their building or district administrators discovered they were gay or lesbian. These are fine teachers, who were targeted for dismissal for no other reason than their sexual orientation. It was only through the exercise of their due process rights that they were able to keep their jobs, their careers, and their professional reputations.
Meanwhile, the underlying fiscal intent of the bill, to rectify inequities in the system, is being called into question and districts are predicting layoffs. It would seem that the only place where the Kansas legislature succeeded was in alienating a great deal of Kansans and providing them with greater incentive to vote, volunteer, and contribute to moderate, pro-education candidates in November’s election.
It looks as if “Kansas nice” will continue to be on hiatus, at least through election season, as the teachers of Kansas stand poised to take back their state and undue the destruction caused under the leadership of Gov. Sam Brownback, with the help of his friends and funders the Kochs.