Manslaughter not option, judge tells jury
WICHITA, Kan. – The judge in the trial of a man accused of murdering an abortion doctor dealt the defense a major setback Thursday, ruling that the jury cannot consider a lesser charge of manslaughter.
The ruling came hours after Scott Roeder took the stand and admitted killing Dr. George Tiller, saying he acted to save the lives of unborn children.
Roeder’s attorneys had hoped to win a lesser conviction of voluntary manslaughter, which requires them to show their client had an unreasonable but honest belief that deadly force was justified.
Roeder testified that he considered elaborate schemes to stop the doctor, including chopping off his hands, crashing a car into him or sneaking into his home to kill him.
But in the end, Roeder told jurors, the easiest way was to walk into Tiller’s church, put a gun to the man’s forehead and pull the trigger.
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.
“They were going to continue to die,” he said. “The babies were going to continue to die.”
Roeder has pleaded not guilty to murder in the attack at the Wichita church where Tiller was an usher. Witnesses have described how Roeder walked into the building’s foyer on May 31 shortly after the service started, approached Tiller and fired a single shot before fleeing.
After Roeder’s testimony, District Judge Warren Wilbert ruled that the jury would not be permitted to consider the manslaughter charge because abortion, including late-term abortion, is legal in Kansas and because Tiller did not pose an imminent threat.
“There is no immediate danger in the back of a church,” the judge said. He also ruled out a second-degree murder conviction, which does not involve premeditation, because it was clear Roeder planned the killing.
“It would be hard for a reasonable fact-finder to find anything other than the defendant formulating his belief and then planning on multiple occasions … to carry out his intention to (kill) Dr. Tiller.”
In a November interview with The Associated Press, Roeder. 51. publicly confessed to shooting Tiller, who was one of the few doctors in the country who performed late-term abortions.
“I did what I thought was needed to be done to protect the children,” Roeder said. “I shot him.”