The first-degree murder conviction of antiabortion activist Scott Roeder on Friday has stalled the use of voluntary-manslaughter arguments to win lesser verdicts in future cases involving the killings of abortion doctors.
Mr. Roeder was found guilty of murdering George Tiller, a Wichita, Kan., doctor who operated a clinic where he performed late-term abortions and other medical services for women. Roeder admitted to shooting Dr. Tiller in the foyer of Tiller's church in May last year. But from the beginning his defense team sought to frame his actions as justified to prevent the deaths of unborn children.
In closing arguments Friday, Roeder defense lawyer Mark Rudy said his client “thought that the babies kept on dying” and he killed Tiller to prevent him from “killing more babies.”
Roeder faces life in prison
Voluntary manslaughter is a conviction that usually brings a sentence of up to five years in prison. Convicted of first-degree murder, Roeder now faces life in prison. His sentencing is scheduled for March 9.
Roeder was also found guilty of two counts of aggravated assault for threatening two churchgoers with his gun as he fled the premises.
When Judge Warren Wilbert had announced he was open to hearing evidence to support a voluntary-manslaughter charge, many abortion-rights supporters feared such a ruling could set a precedent in future cases. Judge Wilbert ended up dismissing the possibility, charging that the defense team’s testimony was not compelling enough to justify deadly force by Roeder.
Wilbert’s rejection, coupled with the jury’s murder verdict, was received by abortion-rights organizations as validation of their judicial strategy. They also saw it as a strengthening of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 US Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion.
“Doctors who perform abortions deserve and must receive the full protection of the law,” she said in a statement. The jury, she added, “sent a clear and resounding message to [Roeder] and to all anti-choice extremists [that] violence and murder cannot be justified by personal beliefs about abortion and will not be tolerated in this country.”
Justice Department asked to investigate
Terry O’Neil, president of the National Organization for Women, congratulated the jury “for not being fooled by the outrageous defense claim of justifiable terrorism.” In a statement, she asked the US Department of Justice to investigate antiabortion extremists who target abortion doctors and their families. Ms. O’Neill said her organization could share what they know to “help shut down this conspiracy to deny women their fundamental right to abortion through violence and the threat of violence.”
Several antiabortion groups had denounced Tiller’s killing at the time. But prominent antiabortion activist Randall Terry released a statement this week that called the trial “a farce” because the jury was not allowed to understand Roeder’s motives. "The vast majority of the pro-life movement is committed to the rule of law,” Mr. Terry said. But he added: “There is another law – the ‘law of blood.’ ”
“It is etched in the hearts of man and the laws of nature and we cannot escape its reality or consequence,” he said.
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