Yesterday Scott Roeder, who killed Kansas abortion doctor George Tiller last May, took the stand in his own defense at his murder trial in Wichita. But since Roeder admits to shooting Tiller in the head at his church after carefully planning the act, he really has no defense to offer. Judge Warren Wilbert would not allow him to argue that his crime was necessary to prevent a greater evil—i.e., Tiller's continued murder of unborn children. Nor would Wilbert allow Roeder to argue that he should be convicted of voluntary manslaughter instead of first-degree murder because he acted based on "an unreasonable but honest belief that circumstances existed that justified deadly force." Wilbert nevertheless allowed Roeder to explain his motive to the jury. "I did what I thought was needed to be done to protect the children," he said. "I shot him….If I didn't do it, the babies were going to die the next day." Barring jury nullification, this explanation won't have any impact on the verdict, so the trial seems pretty pointless from a legal perspective. Roeder freely admits to what the law defines as premeditated murder, and under the law his motive makes no difference.
The trial does raise interesting moral issues, however. As I argued in a column when jury selection began two weeks ago, people who claim to believe abortion is the murder of innocents may cite prudential reasons not to follow Roeder's example, but they have not satisfactorily explained why his moral reasoning is wrong. For his part, Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry, who implicitly condemned Tiller's murder last spring, is now hedging:
"George Tiller shed the blood of 60,000 innocent children," Randall Terry, the founder of Operation Rescue, told reporters. Mr. Terry (who is in a legal dispute over the use of the group's name with Operation Rescue's current president, Troy Newman) said that he was neither condoning nor condemning Mr. Roeder's actions, but that people should remember the children.
Update: Today the jury convicted Roeder on all counts after deliberating for 37 minutes.