NOW Denounces Justifiable Terrorism Defense in Wichita Murder Trial

A Wichita district court judge will allow Scott Roeder to use a voluntary manslaughter defense — a tactic that could allow him to walk free after just four years if he is convicted of killing abortion provider Dr. George Tiller.

Roeder has admitted shooting Dr. Tiller in the head as the physician ushered at Sunday morning church service. But Roeder and his lawyers say this heinous act wasn’t murder because he was driven by his religious fervor to save unborn children. Under Kansas law, voluntary manslaughter is the “unreasonable but honest belief” that the use of force was justified.

Judge Warren Wilbert insisted he was only following the rule of the law in allowing Roeder to claim he committed voluntary manslaughter instead of premeditated murder. Although the judge won’t rule on giving instruction to the jury until after the evidence has been submitted, he has nevertheless opened the door that voluntary manslaughter can possibly be used as a defense, and that door should never have been opened.

NOW President Terry O’Neill calls the ruling a dangerous and potentially deadly precedent. “Judge Wilbert’s ruling allows Roeder, in effect, to make out a claim of justifiable terrorism — that is, that Roeder was justified because of his religious ideology,” said O’Neill. “Murder driven by ideological zealotry is a form of terrorism. What’s really disturbing about Judge Wilbert’s irresponsible ruling is that it could easily encourage other religious extremists to attack health care providers as a justifiable means of stopping women from obtaining abortions.”

“This trial is about the murder of Dr. Tiller — a family man, a father, a husband, and a caring and compassionate physician,” O’Neill continued. “Allowing the defense to make this trial about Roeder’s abortion views is not just demeaning to the memory of a brave doctor, but also creates real danger for providers around the country. Roeder’s act was voluntary all right — but he shouldn’t be rewarded with a 4 to 6 year sentence for voluntary manslaughter. He should be tried for premeditated murder,” said O’Neill.

Activists from Kansas NOW in Wichita also denounced the judge’s ruling. “The court failed to send the message that religious fanaticism has no place in a defense against a murder charge,” said Kansas NOW President Kari Ann Rinker. “Mr. Roeder has already made his malicious intent toward Dr. Tiller clear through his repeated jail house confessions to the press. Kansas NOW urges Judge Wilbert to listen to the evidence however it may be presented and urge the jury to try Mr. Roeder for the crime of first degree murder,” said Rinker.


Contact: Caitlin Gullickson, media[at], 202-628-8669 ext 123