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Murder Trial or Political Theater? The Scott Roeder Saga

Murder Trial or Political Theater?  The Scott Roeder Saga

Instead of moving forward with the trial of Scott Roeder, the man accused of murdering Dr. George Tiller, prosecutors filed a motion seeking to limit the legal arguments presented by the defense as Roeder seeks conviction of a lesser charge.  Roeder has admitted, on multiple occasions and to multiple people, that he in fact shot Dr. Tiller as Tiller left church and he is currently facing first degree murder charges as a result.  However, Roeder has pled “not guilty” to those charges, choosing instead to use the trial as a venue for attacking abortion providers and to promote the cause of violence as a means of challenging abortion services.

Roeder’s first attempt to evade responsibility for his actions was rebuffed by Judge Warren Wilbert who rejected Roeder’s “necessity” defense.  Roeder wanted to argue, essentially, that he had to shoot and kill Tiller to save unborn babies.  However, the law does not recognize necessity as a defense to legal actions, and there is absolutely no evidence that Dr. Tiller performed illegal abortions.  Therefore the judge rightly ruled against Roeder’s attempted defense.

But Roeder does not give up that easily.  He has also asked the judge to consider allowing evidence to support a voluntary manslaughter conviction–a charge that carries a far more lenient punishment and which would give Roeder just the political forum he is seeking.  If the judge rules in Roeder’s favor then Roeder could be convicted if the jurors concluded that Roeder had an “unreasonable but honest belief that circumstances existed that justified deadly force.”

Understandably the prosecutors are not pleased by this maneuvering, hence the last minute motion to limit the scope of the defense.  According to prosecutors, voluntary manslaughter should not be considered an available option for killings involving premeditation, and their evidence shows ample premeditation by Roeder.

The danger in allowing this kind of defense on these kinds of facts is pretty clear.  Any anti-abortion zealot arguably holds an honest but unreasonable belief that  eliminating doctors who perform abortions will eliminate abortions.  Furthermore, while some of the more mainstream anti-choice groups have tried to distance themselves from Roeder, others have embraced Roeder as a kind of political martyr, and used Roeder as a means to promote what they call a “Defensive Action Statement”, or a public claim that violence against abortion doctors is justified. 

Allowing Roeder to present evidence to support a voluntary manslaughter charge would open the door to the jury considering not whether Roeder killed Dr. Tiller–he’s admitted he did and prosecutors have plenty of eye witnesses to the murder–but why Roeder killed Dr. Tiller.  That means sending the to the jury evidence examining the broader practice of abortion and in particular evidence of third trimester abortions since Dr. Tiller was one of only a few providers to perform such services.

For now the trial is delayed until Wednesday, when a ruling on the prosecution’s motion is expected.  In the meantime, pro-choice and anti-choice activists around the country wait to see if this case remains a murder prosecution or becomes transformed into a political circus with potentially deadly results.

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photo courtesy of Gideon Tsang via Flickr

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64 comments

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5:19PM PDT on Apr 1, 2010

He was just found guilty. Life sentence with no parole for at least 50 years. He will die in prison.

4:16PM PDT on Apr 1, 2010

thius was premeditated murder of a good man he deserves the chair no appeals nada

11:49AM PST on Jan 30, 2010

The choice of whether you abort a child before it becomes a fetus, should be left to the individual to make that choice. No one, no government, law should interefere with a woman's choice to do what is "right" for her and her circumstances.

9:57PM PST on Jan 25, 2010

it`s a political theatre

7:07AM PST on Jan 25, 2010

Justice is needed.
no crime, no violence of any kind.
Peace, safety and happiness is needed.

2:51PM PST on Jan 15, 2010

just kill him. he's guilty. don't waste our time. what if all the peace demonstrators killed our troops when they came home because they killed all those people in iran, iraq, afghanistan, etc. wouldn't that be the same thing as what roeder's doing? wait, and then someone else (government troops, perhaps) could open fire on all the demonstrators! and it will escalate. . .

5:52AM PST on Jan 15, 2010

What this man did was to commit murder - and I would choose to sentence him to the death penalty if I could.

But I do think that he should be allowed to assert the defense of voluntary manslaughter (although I don't believe he's guilty of anything less than murder). The argument that he might have had an "unreasonable but honest belief that circumstances existed that justified deadly force" is a valid argument. After all, if a person believes that abortion, however legal, is murder - then he also may well honestly believe that stopping the murder by the use of deadly force might be justified.

Judicially stoning a woman to death in some Islamic countries for adultery is perfectly legal in some cases. But I would feel absolutely and totally justified in killing those who are trying to stone her to death to try and save her. Because, however legal her 'punishment' may be, I believe it to be wrong and would see the killing of her tormenters as morally justified.

I would feel the same way about killing someone who was about to send a dog into the pit to fight another dog - and there are many, many people who would disagree with me on that position, seeing the human's life as more important than the dog he is trying to maim and kill. But I would truly believe I was doing the moral thing.

There really are a lot of gray areas when it comes to what we believe to be right or wrong.

8:05PM PST on Jan 14, 2010

The outcome of this trial could have dire consequences for both sides of the abortion clash. Roeder is a scumbag and a murderer (OK, an alleged murderer), and if guilty needs to go to the Big House for the rest of his rotten excuse for a life. None of this "voluntary manslaughter" horse****!

6:57PM PST on Jan 14, 2010

He needs to go to prison.

2:38PM PST on Jan 14, 2010

He'll get away with it and be set free to kill again, this time with a license to murder. That is how our justice system works, backwards. He'll probably end up as a prison warden somewhere.

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