The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release
Contact: Mai Shiozaki, 202-628-8669, ext. 116; cell 202-641-1906

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

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

"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.

The National Organization for Women (NOW) is the largest organization of feminist activists in the United States. NOW has 500,000 contributing members and 550 chapters in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.