The first-degree manslaughter charge leveled against Scott Roeder in 2009 is being challenged this week after a Supreme Court hearing in Kansas focused on whether jurors were given all the options in his trial.
Roeder was convicted of murder and aggravated assault after he shot Dr. George Tiller, who provided abortions, while he was at church and aimed his gun at two witnesses. Sentenced to fifty years, 55-year old Roeder now has defenders who say that the jurors should have been allowed to choose whether he received the first-degree charge or a lesser one of voluntary manslaughter, because he believed that by killing Tiller, he was saving the lives of unborn children. However, Judge Warren Wilbert decided during the trial not to let jurors choose a lesser charge because of the threat of more violence against abortion providers.
"That gives someone the right to go out and kill the CEO of Philip Morris?" Justice Eric Rosen said after comparing the argument to a person who strongly believes that selling tobacco products is wrong due to the potential harm they cause. "It's the same principle."
"We're talking about his view that this doctor is performing illegal abortions resulting in the deaths of others," Rachel Pickering, an appellate defender, said on Wednesday. Pickering is lobbying for a new trial for Roeder, whose beliefs clashed violently with Tiller's. Tiller was one of just a few doctors in the area who performed late-stage abortions, and had been acquitted of charges just weeks before his murder relating to late-stage termination violations.
Seven Supreme Court Justices listened to Pickering's arguments and expressed doubt as to whether they are valid but have yet to rule. According to Pickering, Roeder believed that unborn children were in "imminent danger" at Tiller's hands, but the justices pointed out that Tiller wasn't scheduled to perform any procedures around the time he was killed. The fact that he was shot at church weighed heavily on the argument.
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