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Kansas judge rejects necessity defense in Tiller murder trial

Scott Roeder, the defendant on trial for the murder of doctor George Tiller, cannot use a necessity defense in his January 11 trial, reports the Kansas City Star. Sedgwick County District Judge Warren Wilber’s ruling on Tuesday was a setback for Scott Roeder, who confessed to the May 31 shooting of Tiller and attempted to justify the killing as necessary to save the lives of fetuses that would be aborted.

Wilber said Kansas law does not recognize the necessity defense, and cited a 1993 Kansas Supreme Court ruling rejecting a similar defense in a criminal trespassing case at a Wichita family planning clinic. The City of Wichita v. Tilson decision found moral beliefs could not justify criminal activity against a law-abiding citizen, as this would “not only lead to chaos but would be tantamount to sanctioning anarchy,”stated the Southern Poverty Law Center.

According to the Washington Post, Wilber said a necessity defense could still be used in Kansas courts, where the defendant can demonstrate a grave imminent threat that justified immediate unlawful action. Wilber told the defense these circumstances did not apply in the Roeder case. Judge Wilber also denied the defense’s requests to relocate the trial outside Wichita, and denied defense attorneys’ request to prevent prosecutors from rejecting potential jurors based on their beliefs on abortion. The lawyers in the case are set to begin selecting jurors.

Roeder has been charged with one count of pre-meditated murder and two counts of aggravated assault for allegedly threatening church ushers at the site of the murder. The defense attorneys could argue for a lesser sentence such as voluntary manslaughter, which Kansas defines as “an unreasonable but honest belief that circumstances existed that justified deadly force.” Roeder could receive life in prison if he is found guilty of first-degree murder, or could receive a shorter sentence of approximately 5 years if the jury finds him guilty of voluntary manslaughter.

Sources:

Kansas City Star 12/23/09, Washington Post 12/22/09; Southern Poverty Law Center 11/25/09