Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Legal Travesty or Justice?

I don't know what to make of this.

On Sunday, May 31 of last year, George Tiller was murdered while he was acting as a greeter in the foyer of the church he attended in Wichita, Kansas. Scott Roeder calmly walked up to him, pressed a .22 caliber pistol to his forehead, and pulled the trigger. Roeder was arrested shortly thereafter and charged with first-degree murder and other crimes.

His trial has just begun, and the presiding judge has already made a highly controversial and unexpected ruling. He ruled that Roeder can be allowed to argue to the jury that he committed voluntary manslaughter rather than first-degree murder.

You see, Roeder was an anti-abortion activist and his victim, Dr. George Tiller, was one of the only late-term abortion providers in the country. Roeder has openly maintained that his act was justified because he was defending the unborn's "right to life," and he will now be able to argue before a jury that his killing of Dr. Tiller was motivated by, in the words of Kansas' law defining 'voluntary maslaughter, ' "an unreasonable but honest belief that circumstances existed that justified deadly force." Those "circumstances" were, of course, the imminent abortion of late-term fetuses.

Prosecutors had expected this to be an open and shut case in which Roeder would be tried for first degree murder, found guilty, and sentenced appropriately. But the judge's ruling, if not reversed in the wake of the prosecutor's challenge, means that Roeder could be found guilty of a far lesser offense and released from prison within five years for his cold-blooded killing of a physician with legal license to perform late-term abortions.

Like I said, I don't know what to make of this, because I can readily see both sides of the issue. On the one hand, I believe that abortion should be permitted, and that people who kill doctors to prevent them from performing legal abortions should have the book thrown at them. But, on the other hand, I have reservations about late term abortions, and, more importantly in this case, it seems very clear to me that Roeder's actions follow the letter of the Kansas legal definition of "voluntary manslaughter." If we're a "nation of laws," shouldn't we follow the law even in cases like Roeder's?

Actually, I'm inclined to think that the law should be changed and the distinction between first-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter eliminated. If you consciously intend to do what Roeder did and you do it, you should be put away for the rest of your life or even executed for it if there's capital punishment in your state. But that's not the way of Kansas' and, I suspect, other states' law. and I'm inclined to believe that the law should be followed.

Yet, what happens if we do follow the law in the Roeder case and he ends up serving five years or less in prison for what he did, as well as being hailed as a hero by anti-abortion activists? Who will be murdered next by one of these misguided souls in the aftermath of Roeder's relative "victory"?

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