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US judge backs defense in abortion shooting.

Byline: Daily Star Staff

Summary: WICHITA, Kansas: A US judge has again refused to block a confessed abortion clinic killer from arguing in court that he should be spared a murder conviction because he believed he was saving unborn children.Judge Warren Wilbert dealt prosecutors a setback during a hearing Tuesday. He said that until the defense decides which evidence it will present.

Roxana Hegeman

Associated Press

WICHITA, Kansas: A US judge has again refused to block a confessed abortion clinic killer from arguing in court that he should be spared a murder conviction because he believed he was saving unborn children.

Judge Warren Wilbert dealt prosecutors a setback during a hearing Tuesday. He said that until the defense decides which evidence it will present, it's difficult for him to rule out Scott Roeder's proposed defense claim in the killing of Dr. George Tiller in Wichita, Kansas, last May.

Roeder is charged with first-degree murder, and jury selection was scheduled to begin Wednesday behind closed doors. It was expected to last about a week.

Wilbert had decided last week he would allow the 51-year-old Roeder -- who admits killing Tiller -- to build a defense case calling for a lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter.

Kansas law defines voluntary manslaughter as "an unreasonable but honest belief" that there were circumstances to justify deadly force. It could bring a prison sentence closer to five years, instead of a life term for first-degree murder.

Prosecutors argued Monday that such a defense should not be considered because there is no evidence Tiller posed an imminent threat at the time of the killing. A voluntary manslaughter-based argument would essentially "enable a defendant to justify premeditated murder because of an emotionally charged political belief," the prosecution wrote.

But defense attorneys filed a motion Tuesday arguing that in Roeder's mind, there was an imminence of danger because Tiller's clinic was performing abortions."It had staff. It had a practitioner. It had a budget. It had clientele. C* In the mind of Mr. Roeder, the victim presented a clear danger to unborn children," the defense wrote.

While again turning aside the prosecution argument, Wilbert warned that the defense had a difficult task and he would "make every effort to try this case as a criminal first-degree murder trial." The judge said he would rule on a witness-by-witness, question-by-question basis on whether to allow jurors to hear specific evidence on what Roeder's beliefs were at the time of the shooting.

The facts of the case are not in dispute. On May 31, Roeder got up from a pew at Wichita's Reformation Lutheran Church at the start of services and walked to the foyer, where Tiller and a fellow usher were chatting. He put the barrel of a .22-caliber handgun to Tiller's forehead and pulled the trigger.

The ruling last week changed what had been expected to be a simple case -- with the defendant's confession and more than 250 possible witnesses for the prosecution -- and galvanized both sides of the abortion debate.

The Feminist Majority Foundation denounced the ruling, saying Wilbert essentially was allowing a justifiable homicide defense. The group urged the Justice Department to file federal charges under the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, but the department declined to comment.

The Rev. Don Spitz of Chesapeake, Virginia, who runs a website supporting violence against abortion providers, said he was astonished by the ruling, "but in a good way."

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Publication:The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
Date:Jan 14, 2010
Words:585
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