Off The Record: On Religion, Politics & Equality
The Murder in Wichita
The murder case of Dr. George Tiller intrigued me from its tragic beginning in May last year in the vestibule of his church. I am staunchly pro-choice, and when acts of terrorism like this occur, I stand up and take notice. But with the trial about to begin, it’s the man, Scott Roeder, confessed murderer of Dr. Tiller, his crack team of public defenders and the curious cast of witnesses and supporters, that continues to reel me in.
Supporters will be at the Roeder trial, like crackpot Dave Leach of Des Moines, Iowa who operated an Ebay website to support – monetarily and morally – Scott Roeder’s murderous act as work of the Almighty. Witnesses ranging from former Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline, a rabid opponent of Dr. Tiller, to Roeder’s own brother Robert, who is bipolar, just like Scott himself. And, most recently, the potential for allowing a voluntary manslaughter defense in this obviously pre-meditated murder.*
I spoke with Ron Sylvester, crime and court reporter for the Wichita Eagle. I caught him Saturday after exchanging a couple voice mails, and I immediately apologized for calling him over the weekend. I told him I figured he would be working with the big trial pending. Nope. He was“Just trying to rest up before the next couple of weeks,” said Sylvester, bracing for what will be a national media onslaught of attention.
I asked him the basics: what the locals were saying, how the mood was in Wichita, how they were planning to handle the potential crush of out-of-town yahoos coming to cover the trial. He chuckled about that part – the out-of-town yahoos. As soon as I said it, I had to admit to him that I was among that bunch. Mr. Sylvester said they were expecting a crowd, that a press work room had been set up. The Tiller murder was “a shock to the community,” Sylvester said, obliging my questions on his Saturday. He went on to explain that although Tiller had been the center of controversy for decades, the night of Tiller’s murder an impromptu, “Candlelight vigil of about 2,000 people” sprung up in a downtown square.
I have only been to Kansas twice. To Kansas City – and now I don’t remember if it was Kansas City, KS or Kansas City, MO? – and to Ottawa. I drove down from my native Iowa over 15 years ago to visit my brother and his wife, who were living in Ottawa then. I remember very little about Kansas except it was very hot and dry the day I arrived – there could have been tumbleweeds. The little town still had key clubs for your drinking pleasure.
I confess to know little about the state except what I see on Storm Chasers.
Our conversation swung to the news that Judge Warren Wilbert would be allowing a Voluntary Manslaughter defense to be argued at trial. Sylvester said that in covering the courts for about 10 years in Wichita, he had never seen the application of the Voluntary Manslaughter angle as he had in this trial. I decided I had kept Mr. Sylvester long enough, bid him good-bye and good luck covering the story over what I am sure will be a long, unpredictable next several weeks. Since I spoke to Sylvester on Saturday, the witness selection has been postponed until Wednesday, January 13.
I immediately looked up “Voluntary Manslaughter” under Kansas State Law:
Voluntary Manslaughter is the intentional killing of a human being upon a sudden quarrel or in the heat of passion or upon the unreasonable but honest belief that circumstances existed that justified deadly force. The sentencing guidelines provide a range of sentence from a minimum of 55 months imprisonment to a maximum prison term of 247 months.
To break this down, I looked at it’s two parts. Voluntary manslaughter is the intentional killing in one of these two possible scenarios:
Clearly this was no heat of passion situation. Roeder had hung out at some of Tiller’s trials – filings courtesy of former AG Phill Kline – and made no bones about his radical pro-life stance. Roeder had also been picked up for carrying explosives in his vehicle, and was and/or is still part of a militia group out of Montana. Or was that Idaho? Regardless, Roeder has a history of violent tendencies. No, I think where the Voluntary Manslaughter defense may come into play here is under the second part of Kansas law – the unreasonable but honest belief bit. Due to Roeder’s untreated bipolar disorder, I am guessing the defense is going to argue that Roeder was capable of having an unreasonable but honest belief that he had to shoot and kill in cold blood Dr. Tiller, in his own church.
Bipolar Disorder and “unreasonable but honest belief”
Scott Roeder is said to suffer from Bipolar Disorder. I am neither a lawyer nor psychiatrist. I can only guess that this is going to come into play during the hearing tomorrow on whether to allow a defense of Voluntary Manslaughter. On the witness list is Roeder’s brother, Robert, who is also Bipolar. It will be interesting to see how the defense presents this. I am reading a lot of comments out there of complete disgust at the possibility of a VM defense. I confess, it grosses me out to the max too. But I want Scott Roeder to get the best defense in the land. Not just because I believe this murderer has a right to it, but because it reduces the possibility of an appeal down the road.
The Pending Federal Case
A Justice Department press release declared last June that:
“The Department of Justice will work tirelessly to determine the full involvement of any and all actors in this horrible crime, and to ensure that anyone who played a role in the offense is prosecuted to the full extent of federal law…”
So I called them, to find out how their tireless work is coming along. I first called the contact on the Press Release – a Jim Cross, who’s office directed me to the DA of Sedgwick County in Wichita Kansas, who were kind, but clear that they had nothing to do with the “feds” and that they were pursuing the State charges of homicide and assault only. She told me to call D.C. I dialed up the DOJ – (202)514-2007 – and much like the Senate Armed Services Committee, they answered on the first ring. A nice woman let me know the person I needed to speak to was out to lunch and to please send an email her. So I did and got a simple, prompt response:
Our investigation into the murder of Dr. George Tiller remains open and ongoing. The Department does not comment on open cases.
Alejandro Miyar, Office of Public Affairs, USDOJ, 202.514.2007
The investigation is operating under the FACE Act, which is designed to protect patients and health care providers against threats of force and physical obstruction of reproductive health facilities (READ: Abortion Clinics). The FACE Act stands for Freedom of Access to Clinics Entrances and it prohibits:
Whoever (1) by force or threat of force or by physical obstruction, intentionally injures, intimidates or interferes with or attempts to injure, intimidate or interfere with any person because that person is or has been, or in order to intimidate such person or any other person or any class of persons from, obtaining or providing reproductive health services; (2) by force or threat of force or by physical obstruction, intentionally injures, intimidates or interferes with or attempts to injure, intimidate or interfere with any person lawfully exercising or seeking to exercise the First Amendment right of religious freedom at a place of religious worship; or (3) intentionally damages or destroys the property of a facility, or attempts to do so, because such facility provides reproductive health services, or intentionally damages or destroys the property of a place of religious worship, shall be subject to the penalties provided in subsection (b) and the civil remedies provided in subsection (c), except that a parent or legal guardian of a minor shall not be subject to any penalties or civil remedies under this section for such activities insofar as they are directed exclusively at that minor. (read the entire FACE act here)
It seems to me this would be slam dunk, this Federal investigation against a man that murdered an abortion provider, by his own admission because Tiller was an abortion provider. But, as with so much legal stuff, one can never tell. I encourage you to keep up to date with Alejandro at the DOJ and keep finding out where our Federal Government’s investigation stands.
Supporters of Roeder:
I assumed, incorrectly it turns out, that Operation Rescue, headed by Troy Newman, would be attending the trial. Mr. Newman denounces Scott Roeder’s act as vigilantism and has told the press no one from his organization plans on attending the Tiller trial.
Knowing Operation Rescue’s radical past, I forgave myself for assuming he would be there. Operation Rescue are the folks that drive around big panel trucks with images of aborted fetuses on them. In fact, check out their upcoming truck-o-rama at the Superbowl. Mr. Newman’s group also pulled up stakes and relocated to Wichita, Kansas for the express purpose of closing down Dr. Tiller’s practice. I sent Mr. Newman an email asking if he felt at all culpable for the murder of Dr. Tiller. I came to this question by the same logic that Mr. Roeder’s defense team must have used to call Phill Kline. That Mr. Roeder’s radical ideology was nurtured by Phill Kline’s – leveraging his AG post and his anti-abortion stance – repeated attempts to prosecute Dr. Tiller. The Roeder defense team subpoenaed Mr. Kline last week, perhaps seeking support for their voluntary manslaughter proposal. So too, then might Roeder have also been nurtured by the repeated and gruesome intimidation techniques employed by Operation Rescue. I have not heard back from Troy Newman. I am waiting. In the meantime, Operation Rescue has turned their sights to late-term abortion provider Dr. Carhart in Nebraska. Be advised and be worried.
Even though OR doesn’t support Scott Roeder’s killing Dr. Tiller, there are other radicals out there who do. A fine example is a curious little man named David Leach. David Leach has several websites – one of which is reportedly a bait and switch site called ProChoice.com. Is not pro choice at all, it is a tool that right-to-lifer’s use to lure in those curious about abortion only to hammer one over the head with their religious ideology. Leach has been trying to raise money for Roeder including an attempt to have a charity auction on eBay. EBay subsequently shut this site down. He also appears to run: http://www.scottroeder.org/. David Leach, unlike Troy Newman is planning make an appearance in Wichita this week to show his support for “Brother Roeder.“
A bit about Phill Kline, GQ and dashed political dreams:
Here is what GQ (and a Naral blog) had to say about KS AG Phill Kline in 2005:
“[Kline is] the most aggressive abortion litigator in the land.” The nine-page article carries the headline, “This man will do anything to stop abortion.” The author of the article is GQ correspondent Andrew Corsello, who focused much of his attention on a lengthy dinner conversation he had with Kline and Kline’s wife about abortion. The second page of the piece bears an image of a fetus with a subhead that says, “Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline says he wants to get people talking honestly about abortion, to make people think about abortion. So why has he become the most aggressive abortion litigator in the land, subpoenaing the medical records of abortion clinics and prying into our private sexual histories? Meet the future of the pro-life movement.” (from http://www.naral.com/blog)
Phill Kline who according to some, was like a conservative Bill Clinton, oozing charisma and lighting up rooms. He was an eloquent public speaker and had designs on the Kansas Governor’s Mansion. A lot seems to have changed since that article. Since the killing of Dr. Tiller. Seems Phill Kline has become publicly awkward and wields almost no political charisma at all these days. His career in politics likely at an end.
Resources, Notes and Further Reading:
* Judge Warren Wilbert who will be sitting for the case, scheduled a hearing on the state’s motion to dismiss this possibility for 1:30 p.m. Tuesday. Jury selection was to begin today.
FACE Act, US Dept. of Justice: http://www.justice.gov/crt/split/facestat.php
Wichita Eagle www.kansas.com
Kansas City Star: http://www.kansascity.com/
Iowa Independent Reporting on David Leach: http://iowaindependent.com
About Phill Kline in GQ: http://www.blogforchoice.com/archives/2005/10/phill-kline-mak.html
Roeder Supporter Lease: http://iowaindependent.com/22108/des-moines-activist-happy-with-roeders-necessity-defense-plan
Complaint, Kansas v. Roeder: http://news.findlaw.com/hdocs/docs/abortion/kansas-roeder60209murder.html
NOTE: Ron and I talked about the city setting up a media workroom that projects to see about 100 reporters from all points. He mentioned the trail was to be televised on InSession – formerly CourtTV. The Kansas City Star says it will run on TruTV as well. In any event, check your local listings.
© A.Kopsa 2010