The trial of Scott Roeder, who is being prosecuted for murdering Dr. George Tiller, started off on Friday. Roeder, who has already admitted to the murder, has pleaded "not guilty" in the slaying of the doctor well-known for providing late trimester abortions.
Sadly, it appears that the trial will be less about the actions of the accused, and more about the actions of the victim.
"I do think it’s important for us to honor Dr. Tiller’s courage and, frankly, his martyrdom," [Terry O’Neill, president of the pro-choice National Organization for Women (NOW)] said.
"It appears Scott Roeder is going to try to put Dr. Tiller on trial, and to me that is just monstrous."
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Currently, Judge Warren Wilbert has rejected Roeder’s "necessity defense," but is considering allowing evidence to support a voluntary manslaughter conviction, although he did state it would be an "uphill battle."
Wilbert again denied the [necessity defense] request, telling Roeder at Friday’s hearing
that the argument "I had to shoot and kill Dr. Tiller to save unborn
babies" from abortion doesn’t meet the necessity defense because
abortions are legal and there has never been a finding that Tiller was
performing illegal abortions. Wilbert said the argument also fails by
its very definition because one life is not worth more than another.
Feminist Majority Foundation, which supports abortion rights, said that
despite his repeated rejections of the necessity defense, Wilbert is
essentially allowing Roeder to present a justifiable homicide defense.
is unconscionable and it is unjustifiable," said Katherine Spillar, the
group’s executive vice president. "We fear it will simply embolden
anti-abortion extremists and it will be open season on doctors."
The real question, of course, is what is really going to be on trial – Roeder, or the practice of abortion itself.
Yet Mr. Roeder, who has pleaded not guilty, and his supporters have
made it clear that they hope the trial will focus less on who killed
Dr. Tiller than why — in essence, an effort to send the jury on a
broader examination of abortion and the practices of one of the few
doctors in the country who was known to provide abortions into the
third trimester of pregnancy.
The judge in the case, Warren
Wilbert of Sedgwick County District Court, has said he will not allow
the case to be transformed into a trial on abortion. But he also
indicated late last week that he might allow jurors to consider a
defense theory by which Mr. Roeder could be convicted of voluntary
manslaughter if jurors were to conclude that Mr. Roeder had, as Kansas
law defines it, “an unreasonable but honest belief that circumstances
existed that justified deadly force.”
With the fear that it is the practice of abortion itself that will be put on trial, the obvious focus now is on jury selection.
Philip Anthony, a Washington jury consultant not involved in the
case, said the problem with an abortion-related trial is that most
prospective jurors don’t recognize that they are biased on some level.
is sort of the No. 1 issue this case deals with — where virtually
everybody has an opinion of one sort or another, even if they haven’t
stopped to think about it in their lives,” Anthony said. ”At the end
of the day, they probably have an opinion and that makes it very
difficult in jury selection.”
Potential jurors who are adamantly
opposed to abortion or who favor abortion rights — and who acknowledge
they look at this case with a bias from the start — will likely be
eliminated by the court without either side having to waste a strike,
Anthony said. But it’s the unstated biases of the rest that pose the
biggest challenge to both sides.
That of course, leads to the next logical question: do you strike a juror for his or her abortion views?
Roeder has admitted to reporters that he pulled the trigger. His
only defense lies with convincing the jury that he was somehow
justified in doing so, because he was trying to save unborn children.
(Which might not save him from prison — but it could qualify him for
conviction of a lesser crime, like manslaughter.) He really needs
jurors with pro-life views if he’s going to pull that off.
I’m not so sure that strategy is going to work. Judging from
comments here on CSKC, there are a lot of pro-life people out there who
— as much as they might hate abortion — don’t like men who
assassinate church door greeters, either.
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