Follow-up on Tiller murder trial. January 29, 2010 9:47 AM   Subscribe

As a follow-up to the thread on the murder of Dr. Tiller: Scott Roeder has been found guilty of first-degree murder.

(I didn't think there was a way to make this into a proper post for the blue, but also thought a lot of MeFites would be interested in this follow-up.)
posted by grapefruitmoon to MetaFilter-Related at 9:47 AM (127 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

That's a relief. Glad no one on the jury bought his bullshit.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:50 AM on January 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also, only 37 minutes of deliberation! That's just enough time for them to go in to the room, grab coffee, get seated, and pass out notepads.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:51 AM on January 29, 2010


I hope the brevity of the deliberation isn't somehow used as a criterion for appeal.
posted by Zed at 9:54 AM on January 29, 2010


Good.
posted by gaspode at 9:57 AM on January 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


Sad to think that there was a question about whether gunning someone down at church would be considered murder.
posted by odinsdream at 9:58 AM on January 29, 2010 [15 favorites]


I hope the brevity of the deliberation isn't somehow used as a criterion for appeal.

IANAL, but it's pretty hard to see how anything could be used in his favor after that insane incriminating testimony he gave. That was the biggest Hail Mary that I can ever recall in a criminal trial.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:58 AM on January 29, 2010


Good Riddance.

A jury deliberated for 37 minutes Friday before finding Scott Roeder guilty of premeditated, first-degree murder. The 51-year-old Kansas City, Mo., man faces a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment with the possibility of parole after 25 years.

A shame they can't feed him to a wood chipper.

That's a relief. Glad no one on the jury bought his bullshit.

Me too. I was worried that his batshitinsane "Tiller just needed killin'" defense might find sympathy with the jury.
posted by zarq at 10:03 AM on January 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm glad the Chewbacca defense failed.
posted by Rhomboid at 10:04 AM on January 29, 2010


I just posted an update to that effect in the last Tiller thread.

Ugh. This is just so ugly.
posted by hellojed at 10:05 AM on January 29, 2010


Thank fucking god.
posted by shiu mai baby at 10:05 AM on January 29, 2010


Sad to think that there was a question about whether gunning someone down at church would be considered murder.

There really wasn't. However, it's very important that even the most caught-red-handed-guilty person get his or her day in court. It's essential that this sort of person be afforded a fair trial so that the rest of us might also see a fair trial if it's less open-and-shut of a case.
posted by explosion at 10:07 AM on January 29, 2010 [19 favorites]


Thanks for the heads up.
posted by bunnycup at 10:08 AM on January 29, 2010


I just want to point out that the public defender was absolutely outrageous in his closing statement. He compared Roeder to Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King while comparing Dr. Tiller to Hitler and Stalin. He then told the jury that since the time of the Magna Carta they were responsible for deciding what the law should be and strongly urged jury nullification, based on Roeder's convictions. Classy.

And Former AG Phil Kline traveled from Virginia to Kansas on the state's dime to smear and badmouth the dead. And the Judge was pretty lenient with letting in all sorts of otherwise inadmissible evidence, especially from Roeder himself.

It was a joke of a trial conducted by shoddy lawyers and a weak judge. The verdict is correct - but hell, Roeder confessed on the stand and claimed he had no remorse. There's no reason to be happy. This was ugly and a great man is still dead.
posted by allen.spaulding at 10:10 AM on January 29, 2010 [11 favorites]


It was a joke of a trial conducted by shoddy lawyers and a weak judge.

Is it possible that the judge allowed the spectacle in order to prevent any possibility of a mistrial or successful appeal?
posted by zarq at 10:13 AM on January 29, 2010 [5 favorites]


There's no reason to be happy. This was ugly and a great man is still dead.

I'm with you allen.spaulding. And there's surely another Scott Roeder waiting in the wings.
posted by futureisunwritten at 10:17 AM on January 29, 2010


Donating another $25 to Planned Parenthood in his honor.
posted by kimdog at 10:17 AM on January 29, 2010 [9 favorites]


The verdict is correct...There's no reason to be happy.

There's one.
posted by DU at 10:17 AM on January 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


District Judge Warren Wilbert ruled that his lawyers failed to show that Tiller posed an imminent threat and the jury could not consider such a verdict.

Good on him. I hadn't heard that bit.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:22 AM on January 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


I just want to point out that the public defender was absolutely outrageous in his closing statement. He compared Roeder to Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King while comparing Dr. Tiller to Hitler and Stalin. He then told the jury that since the time of the Magna Carta they were responsible for deciding what the law should be and strongly urged jury nullification, based on Roeder's convictions. Classy.

Just out of curiosity, what would you rather a defense attorney in this situation do? Here we have a guy who has sworn an oath to defend his clients' interests, and who has a client interested in defending himself by claiming he's a hero. It was his job to do his very best to persuade the jury to his client's point of view. Moreover, the attorney is not permitted to argue that Roeder was innocent given his knowledge of the facts. So his only options was to argue as strongly as possible that Roeder was justified.

I hope the attorney does not, himself, believe that Dr. Tiller is like Hitler and that Roeder is made of sunshine and flowers, because that's a patently offensive thing to believe, but the attorney's beliefs are irrelevant to the way the case should be argued. If you believe at all in the adversarial criminal justice system, you have to accept that this attorney did exactly what he was supposed to do and that the system worked.
posted by decathecting at 10:25 AM on January 29, 2010 [21 favorites]


Good. Hopefully someone will finish this asshole off in prison. He's utterly useless as a human.
posted by heyho at 10:32 AM on January 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


And Former AG Phil Kline traveled from Virginia to Kansas on the state's dime to smear and badmouth the dead.

I'm absolutely no fan of the morally challenged Phill Kline, but the jury never heard from him.

He was subpoenaed by the defense and therefore made the trip, but the judge heard a preview of his testimony and barred it from being given in open court.
posted by rewil at 10:33 AM on January 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


Good. Hopefully someone will finish this asshole off in prison. He's utterly useless as a human.

What a terrible thing to say.
posted by jedicus at 10:35 AM on January 29, 2010 [27 favorites]


I was following this trial via allen.spaulding's twitter. Thanks for the update. So sad all around.

Hopefully someone will finish this asshole off in prison. He's utterly useless as a human.

This is not the "human piece of garbage GRAR" thread you are looking for, nor will it be. I know a lot of people are feeling really upset and angry about this generally, but please do not do this here.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:38 AM on January 29, 2010 [8 favorites]


If you believe at all in the adversarial criminal justice system

Sometimes I'm not sure I do believe in the adversarial system, but the attorney may have been just acting within that framework to the best of his ability, so he probably doesn't personally deserve censure.
posted by adamdschneider at 10:38 AM on January 29, 2010


Good. Hopefully someone will finish this asshole off in prison. He's utterly useless as a human.

Wow, this really shocks me coming from someone whose comments have blown me away in a *positive* way elsewhere on the site. I mean, really, really shocking. Like finding out Superman is gay shocking.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 10:40 AM on January 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


A bizarre, and probably criminally ridiculous idea just occurred to me. I wonder if it's possible to hold the radical anti-abortion movement reverse-hostage? It would go something like this.

A fund is started that people can donate to. It would stop accepting donations at some value, like $1 million. Whenever a pro-lifer commits an act of violence against an abortion provider, the contents of the fund are donated to Planned Parenthood (or some other abortion provider).

Eh...there are too many unintended consequences - I'm sure it would never work. It's kind of an interesting idea in theory though.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 10:42 AM on January 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'm sorry to have offended you with my comment. I have a seething hatred for this crime, and since that's the case, I'll shut up about it.
posted by heyho at 10:42 AM on January 29, 2010


Good. Hopefully someone will finish this asshole off in prison. He's utterly useless as a human.

Every cell of my body hates Roeder and believes he is wrong. I believe he is wrong specifically because I don't think killing people because I disagree with them is okay. Now, please let me be clear, I don't think anyone would be wanting to kill Roeder if he disagreed with choice absent murdering over it. But, I don't think killing someone is an appropriate way to register my disapproval of their opinions, actions.

But I think the comment was sort of off the cuff, expressing a sentiment that we all do to some degree feel, and not intended to literally suggest that someone kill Roeder. I could be wrong, not trying to put anything in anyone's mouth.
posted by bunnycup at 10:43 AM on January 29, 2010


I'd like to chime in also against

Good. Hopefully someone will finish this asshole off in prison. He's utterly useless as a human.

I don't think the worth of a human being comes from their actions; I think it's inherent to being a sentient being.

I disagree with the choices this fellow has made in the strongest sense, but I wouldn't deny him his humanity, and I wish him well as he muddles his way through life in his pursuit of happiness like the rest of us.

On preview: As bunnycup says, I understand where heyho is coming from, but I can't get behind that sentiment.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 10:49 AM on January 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm rather amazed that Heyho's comment upset folks and mine further upthread about it being a shame Roeder can't be fed to a wood chipper didn't.

I'm not trying to antagonize anyone, obviously.
posted by zarq at 10:51 AM on January 29, 2010


I'm rather amazed that Heyho's comment upset folks and mine further upthread about it being a shame Roeder can't be fed to a wood chipper didn't.

zarq, I think yours came off less seriously. I think we all just took Heyho's comment way more seriously than it was intended to be taken. Again, disclaimers about not putting words in mouth...
posted by bunnycup at 10:52 AM on January 29, 2010


But I think the comment was sort of off the cuff, expressing a sentiment that we all do to some degree feel, and not intended to literally suggest that someone kill Roeder. I could be wrong, not trying to put anything in anyone's mouth.

Right, I agree, but I think that to keep the level of "discourse" here a few levels above HOPPITAMOPPITA, it's not a good idea to make off-the-cuff statements that contain (serious or not) calls to violence. Also, (and thanks for the apology, heyho) heyho's comments have been so far above this kind of thing that I really was truly shocked to read it coming from her than I would have been from a user whose history I wasn't familiar with.

But yeah, I get the hatred. And the seething. That, I can totally grok.

Personally, I find the whole thing tragic. I wouldn't wish death on anybody, not even this guy, but I am quite relieved that he was declared guilty of first-degree murder and that his "justification" didn't pass muster.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 10:54 AM on January 29, 2010


I'm rather amazed that Heyho's comment upset folks and mine further upthread about it being a shame Roeder can't be fed to a wood chipper didn't.

Well, invoking wood chippers makes it feel like you're less serious. Not saying either of you was more serious, but yeah - wood chippers make it sound like you're mad, but also kidding.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 10:56 AM on January 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Good. Hopefully someone will finish this asshole off in prison. He's utterly useless as a human.

As rightful punishment, I'd prefer he somehow be forced to live every single day of his very long stretch in prison. Whether wanting some righteous vengeance makes me worse than him, or you, or is bitterly ironic in light of what motivated Roeder's crime, I don't know.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:57 AM on January 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm okay with denying this murdering coward his humanity, actually. He excused himself from the species when he decided to gun down a defenseless old man in his house of worship.

Well done to the jury, continued condolences to Tiller's family, and good fucking riddance to this bit of filth named Roeder.
posted by EatTheWeak at 10:58 AM on January 29, 2010


This thread is going to be eerily prescient if Roeder ends up on wood chipper duty in prison.
posted by found missing at 10:59 AM on January 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'd prefer that he not get paroled some day, and an end in prison pretty much guarantees that. So I'm with you heyho.
posted by Big_B at 11:02 AM on January 29, 2010


That was the biggest Hail Mary that I can ever recall in a criminal trial.

At the very least, it's a close contest between him and Colin Ferguson (the mentally ill (but still legally competent) guy who defended himself after shooting a bunch of people on an LIRR train).
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:04 AM on January 29, 2010


Well, invoking wood chippers makes it feel like you're less serious. Not saying either of you was more serious, but yeah - wood chippers make it sound like you're mad, but also kidding.

Thank you, bunnycup and grapefruitmoon. I'll keep that in mind for the future.

For the record, I'd prefer to see him executed for his crime. The idea that he could possibly get out in 25 years turns my stomach.
posted by zarq at 11:06 AM on January 29, 2010


Reading about his testimony made me ill. So glad he was convicted and with minimal deliberation.
posted by Mavri at 11:08 AM on January 29, 2010


I'd prefer that he not get paroled some day

The small but definitely not zero probability that Roeder might end up pardoned by some Captain Crazypants the good people of Kansas elect as governor disturbs me. Hopefully he also committed several federal offenses while killing Tiller.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:11 AM on January 29, 2010


There really wasn't. However, it's very important that even the most caught-red-handed-guilty person get his or her day in court. It's essential that this sort of person be afforded a fair trial so that the rest of us might also see a fair trial if it's less open-and-shut of a case.

Lest my previous comment be misunderstood as somehow against the idea of trials... Of course he should get a trial. I'm mostly saddened by the framing of this debate in the non-legal spheres of social interaction, where the line has been...reasonable people can disagree about whether or not planning to walk into someone's church and shoot them, then doing exactly that, is or is not murder.

It's completely preposterous, made even more ridiculous by the way the defense attempted to frame it as some kind of duty. It's insane, but it doesn't have anything to do with whether or not I think he should have been given a trial. God, of course he should.
posted by odinsdream at 11:19 AM on January 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


I would be happy if, as part of his sentence, Roeder was forced to read the personal accounts from women who were helped by Dr. Tiller. Every single day. Until he could repeat every single one, word for word.
posted by shiu mai baby at 11:20 AM on January 29, 2010 [14 favorites]


The small but definitely not zero probability that Roeder might end up pardoned by some Captain Crazypants the good people of Kansas elect as governor disturbs me. Hopefully he also committed several federal offenses while killing Tiller.

One more reason to support charging violent anti-choice criminals with federal terrorism offenses as well as state crimes. Abortion is a federally guaranteed right. Using terrorist tactics to attack that right should be punished under federal laws.

The unfortunate reality, of course, is that charging Roeder under federal anti-terrorism laws would create a giant political mess and so it likely won't ever happen. Pathetic that the federal government would put politics above protecting women's rights, but there it is.

[Bizarre: Firefox's spellchecker thinks "women's" is wrong and suggests "womenfolk's."]
posted by jedicus at 11:25 AM on January 29, 2010 [5 favorites]


I would be happy if, as part of his sentence, Roeder was forced to read the personal accounts from women who were helped by Dr. Tiller. Every single day. Until he could repeat every single one, word for word.

Or, the obituaries of the women that couldn't get the medical care they needed. The statement of those women's spouses. Parents. Other children.
posted by bunnycup at 11:25 AM on January 29, 2010 [8 favorites]


I'm okay with denying this murdering coward his humanity, actually. He excused himself from the species when he decided to gun down a defenseless old man in his house of worship.

I don't want to get too far into this argument, but isn't this sort of reasoning almost identical to that which motivated Roeder himself? He was probably thinking "I'm okay with denying this murdering coward [Dr. Tiller] his humanity. He excused himself from the species when he decided to kill innocent babies." Of course, that's a terrible, reprehensible thing for Roeder to think or act on. But not because Dr. Tiller didn't deserve to die, it's because no one deserves to die. You can't surrender your human rights, at least not in my book, whether you're Scott Roeder or Dr. Tiller.

Taking the "no true Scotsman/human" approach to assigning human rights to people is a deadly mistake.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 11:26 AM on January 29, 2010 [20 favorites]


I wonder if he'll get to play Dungeons and Dragons in prison.
posted by electroboy at 11:27 AM on January 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


The idea that he could possibly get out in 25 years turns my stomach.

Well, even Charles Manson comes before a parole board every so often. I think any such hearing involving this (equally) mad man will take the same factors into account -- his statements during the trial about lack of remorse, his repeated justification of the crime, and any and all statements he's made through vocal or written correspondence while incarcerated which may show that he still carries those sentiments. He'll basically have to be very good at pretending for the next quarter-century that he didn't actually mean any of these things which are public record.

Since the anti-choice groups already see his man has a hero, that will entail basically shunning the very people whose favor he was trying to curry with his actions. They will do everything they can to make him into a poster child, and he will have to repudiate that utterly if he hopes to get parole. I think he's pretty much locked up for life, and his supporters will dig the hole even deeper for him with their paeans.

I wish it were easy to say that Roeder would die before that first parole hearing, but he likely won't (he's 51, and 76 is a pretty normal age to live to these days). The death sentence would actually only serve to make him into a full-fledged martyr, and that would be worse, IMO.
posted by hippybear at 11:29 AM on January 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


It was his job to do his very best to persuade the jury to his client's point of view.

I feel about this the same way I feel about lawyers who drag the sexual history of a rape victim out and make the same claim: If that's your job, it's a bad job and you're a bad person for doing it.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:31 AM on January 29, 2010 [6 favorites]


76 is not particularly old either. It's still certainly young enough to be dangerous.
posted by electroboy at 11:33 AM on January 29, 2010


Most of the world just seems to keep getting crazier and crazier by the minute.

So, I did think it was possible that in Kansas, a jury might have been swayed by the 'had to stop the baby killer' argument.

Very, very relieved that the jury had no problem figuring this out.

I like shiu mai baby's appropriate punishment idea best.
posted by marsha56 at 11:34 AM on January 29, 2010


If that's your job, it's a bad job and you're a bad person for doing it.

That's why we have rape shield laws. I wouldn't go so far as to say "it's a bad job and you're a bad person" but it is a dirty job and the people who do it are dirty people. The thing about dirty jobs though, is that someone's got to do them.
posted by Doublewhiskeycokenoice at 11:35 AM on January 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


Or, the obituaries of the women that couldn't get the medical care they needed. The statement of those women's spouses. Parents. Other children.

Yeah, that too. Definitely.
posted by shiu mai baby at 11:35 AM on January 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


The death sentence would actually only serve to make him into a full-fledged martyr, and that would be worse, IMO.

Can anything deter anti-choice activists from martyring him while he's alive, though? In the New York Times article, it seems like his innocence is not only a given, but that his trial will justify further violence:

Some abortion opponents, meanwhile, said that Mr. Roeder — who admitted to the killing in open court but said that it was the only way he could stop the deaths of babies — had not received a fair trial, and that the outcome might only encourage more violence.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:37 AM on January 29, 2010


I feel about this the same way I feel about lawyers who drag the sexual history of a rape victim out and make the same claim: If that's your job, it's a bad job and you're a bad person for doing it.

I get what you're saying, but as far as your particular examples goes, that kind of thing is actually pretty tightly regulated.
posted by jedicus at 11:38 AM on January 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


Also, can we please not shit all over this judge? This judge did a hell of a job as far as I'm concerned. He ruled at the outset that there would be no outright defense to Roeder's actions. After that, he ruled that Roeder would be allowed to try and present enough evidence to justify allowing the jury to consider second degree murder and voluntary manslaughter as lesser included offenses. After the evidence was presented the judge ruled that the defense hadn't even come close to either of those and so it was going to be first degree murder or nothing. How else would you have liked him to play this? He said over and over again that the trial was not going to be a referendum on abortion, nor was it going to be a forum to re-litigate the legality of killing abortion doctors, and he stuck to his guns admirably. This was a murder trial and the man was convicted of murder. I hope he enjoys his stay in state housing and that's the end of it.
posted by Doublewhiskeycokenoice at 11:43 AM on January 29, 2010 [7 favorites]


I get what you're saying, but as far as your particular examples goes, that kind of thing is actually pretty tightly regulated.

It is now. I would suggest that making the case that a doctor might need murdering because he's sort of like Stalin is another thing that might need regulating, because obviously this lawyer could not be trusted to regulate himself.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:46 AM on January 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


He wanted to cut off Tiller's hands.

I have to go be sick.
posted by irisclara at 11:54 AM on January 29, 2010


I donated to the Planned Parenthood of Kansas the day Tiller was murdered and I did so again today. I encourage those who can afford it to do so - it helped me feel a little less sad and angry and helpless.

(Apologies if encouraging donations is inappropriate for Metafilter.)
posted by shaun uh at 12:04 PM on January 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


A bizarre, and probably criminally ridiculous idea just occurred to me. I wonder if it's possible to hold the radical anti-abortion movement reverse-hostage? It would go something like this. A fund is started that people can donate to. It would stop accepting donations at some value, like $1 million. Whenever a pro-lifer commits an act of violence against an abortion provider, the contents of the fund are donated to Planned Parenthood (or some other abortion provider).

This would be, in effect, a scaled-up version of PP's existing (and totally inspired) Pledge-a-Picket scheme.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 12:18 PM on January 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


This would be, in effect, a scaled-up version of PP's existing (and totally inspired) Pledge-a-Picket scheme.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 3:18 PM on January 29 [+] [!]


Huh - no kidding. That is an awesome program - thanks for bringing that to my attention. However, I think a fund betting against the safety of PP workers probably takes the idea too far.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 12:22 PM on January 29, 2010


EatTheWeak: I'm okay with denying this murdering coward his humanity, actually. He excused himself from the species when he decided to gun down a defenseless old man in his house of worship.

Come on, don't be an idiot. This idea that it's sometimes OK for a human to judge when another human has rescinded their right to humanity is THE WHOLE PROBLEM here; don't add to it.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 12:23 PM on January 29, 2010 [5 favorites]


All right, I have to step in to say:

Most of the people in Kansas are not crazy and are happy Roeder was convicted. Barring far-far-right crazies, even the most steadfast, religious, "average American" anti-choice Republicans would not want to see a murderer acquitted.

So stuff like:

So, I did think it was possible that in Kansas, a jury might have been swayed by the 'had to stop the baby killer' argument.

No. Kansans are not idiots by definition. You'd have to have a pretty stinking radical jury to actually want to acquit based on that week article, and the vast majority of Kansans are at least smart enough to think critically. People like Roeder came to Tiller's offices from across the nation.

Are people in KS generally Republican and anti-choice? Yes. Are they idiots? No.

Sorry--just have to defend my home state and my Christian conservative parents who are happy to see Roeder convicted and sent to jail for a long, long time!
posted by elisabethjw at 12:35 PM on January 29, 2010 [6 favorites]


Note that "week article" should read "weak argument." Don't know what came over me.
posted by elisabethjw at 12:36 PM on January 29, 2010


"Come on, don't be an idiot. This idea that it's sometimes OK for a human to judge when another human has rescinded their right to humanity is THE WHOLE PROBLEM here; don't add to it."

Spot on, game warden. The vast majority of people believe this man is evil because he thought Dr. Tiller was pretty much a sub-human murderer. I can't guess what was going through his mind at the time but I highly suspect he threw all notions of Dr. Tiller's humanity out the door. How else could he justify the crime to himself?

To "deny this murdering coward his humanity" is doing the same exact thing he did when justifying murder. He denied Dr. Tiller his humanity, failed to see him as something other than a murdering monster, and so killed him.

Let the man have his humanity. Humanity is what is going to curse him every day for at least the next 25 years. Humanity is what is going to make this man feel the pain for what he has done when someday it creeps up on him that "hey, I'm in a concrete cell, I'm going to die here, and for what?"
posted by deacon_blues at 12:42 PM on January 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


To "deny this murdering coward his humanity" is doing the same exact thing he did when justifying murder.

I find him inhumane. I don't see a shred of what I think is worthwhile about humanity in him. I may not deny that he is human, but I deny that he is anything that makes humans valuable.

I'm not planning to murder him. There is a huge gulf between finding somebody to be lacking as a human and deciding they should die. It's a really important disctinction that's being ellided in peopl's rush to tut-tut those who are expressing disgust at this murderer.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:46 PM on January 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


Humanity is what is going to make this man feel the pain for what he has done when someday it creeps up on him that "hey, I'm in a concrete cell, I'm going to die here, and for what?"

I doubt that will ever creep up on him. In fact, I doubt he'll ever think he did the wrong thing by murdering Dr. Tiller. He's too self-righteous.
posted by zarq at 12:46 PM on January 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


I feel about this the same way I feel about lawyers who drag the sexual history* of a rape victim out and make the same claim: If that's your job, it's a bad job and you're a bad person for doing it.

Okay, former criminal defense lawyer here. (Misdemeanors, mind you-- I'd never have been qualified to do a case like this one.) It may be a bad job-- for me it was-- but I've got to speak up for the criminal defense bar here. By and large, in my experience, they are not bad people.

The accused's right to a zealous defense is one of the doctrines at the core of our criminal justice system. This is an ugly case, sure, and heaven knows, I would never have wanted to be involved in it, but that's no reason to abandon a solid and noble principle. The state's power in these situations, ultimately, is enormous. They can take decades of a person's life, or they can obliterate that life entirely. A criminal defense lawyer's job is to keep that power in check and make sure it's administered fairly, even in horrible cases. Even when defending your client feels horrible, you have a duty to defend the constitution thorough your work with your client. Being willing to stand waist-deep in blood and scum to do that doesn't make you a bad person. Actually, I think it does exactly the opposite.

And sometimes, you get a case and there isn't a good defense. When that happens, you do what you can. You take stock of all your cruddy options and you pick the least-worst of them. I don't know anything about Roeder's defense attorney, except that he's a public defender. And indigent defense, at this level, is not something you do for money, power, or prestige. You do it out of duty, or out of love. There's no doubt in my mind that Roeder's a worthless excrescence-- but I don't think you say the same thing about his attorney. Not based on anything we've seen here.

*Others have spoken well about the rape-shield issue, so I won't touch it here.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 12:49 PM on January 29, 2010 [27 favorites]


You take stock of all your cruddy options and you pick the least-worst of them.

Somehow I don't think this is what he did. There is an ethical way to mount a vidorous defense. I do not consider blaming a murder victim to be ethical.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:54 PM on January 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


vigorous, rather.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:54 PM on January 29, 2010


Also, can we please not shit all over this judge? This judge did a hell of a job as far as I'm concerned

As a lawyer who closely followed this case (and whose organization filed an amicus brief for a motion in limine at the trial level which is highly irregular) I have to disagree. The judge made a huge tactical and legal error by not foreclosing the voluntary manslaughter defense or issuing a limiting instruction at the beginning of the trial. He quite clearly did not understand the law - something that became increasingly apparently as the trial went on. Anyone who watched it could see his confusion and he let Roeder take the stand for hour upon hour of ridiculous testimony, which could have led to a mistrial (indeed, I'm shocked it didn't).

Had the Judge done his job and limited imperfect self-defense to situations where a defendant subjectively but unreasonably believed that a crime was to imminently occur - specifically a crime where the victim would have the right to use deadly force in self-defense. That's what the law says. It makes sense. While imminence may have been a factual matter that required evidence to be presented (itself an iffy position) the lack of a requisite underlying crime was a legal matter that the judge should have decided from the outset of the case.

Just think about it. If I see person A about to steal a candy bar from Storeowner B, I can't shoot A. Petty larceny is not a crime that enables Storeowner B to use deadly force in self-defense and therefore I couldn't stand in his shoes and assert that force for him. The same is true for abortion. In Kansas, abortions are legal and Dr. Tiller was consistently found to be operating within the confines of Kansas law. Roeder may have subjectively believed them to be murder but that's not what the voluntary manslaughter instruction is about. I've explained this elsewhere on MeFi in more depth, but all legal experts agree on this point. Otherwise a vegan could kill a grocery store owner (or individual buying a Big Mac) and insist it wasn't murder.

He was being so cautious and was so afraid of being overturned that his failure to issue this ruling led this to become a show trial that was unreal. Roeder's testimony (and Phil Kline's ridiculous testimony) was little more than slander upon the dead, a type of victim-blaming that was disgusting. The lack of basic evidentiary principles from both the PD and DA was amazing and Judge Wilbert doesn't seem to know what a leading question is (or that you can lead on cross). Furthermore, it set up the defense's closing statement.

See, it wasn't until last night that the defense knew it couldn't use the bogus voluntary manslaughter instruction. It was after they had Roeder confess to the whole thing on the stand and act generally creepy and odd (the pizza thing ended up being the weirdest of all). So they really had absolutely no defense. He had stated that he had committed every essential element of the crime and offered no affirmative defense. So the public defender had to rely on nullification. And that's highly questionable and may violate professional ethics.

You can ask the jury to look into their hearts, etc etc. You really shouldn't say "since the Magna Carta, you get to decide what the law should be and you don't have to follow the judge's instructions." Furthermore, invoking Godwin's laws, comparing Tiller to Stalin and Hitler, and then telling the jury that history would judge them if they didn't help out the courageous efforts of Roeder (after comparing him to MLK and Rosa Parks), well, that crosses a few ethical lines.

And all of this could have been stopped if Wilbert had just done his job and disallowed the vol manslaughter defense as a matter of law before Roeder put on his defense. That way the defense attorneys could have potentially planned a legit strategy. I mean, even the ACLU stepped in to say that a criminal defendant should be prohibited from making a certain type of defense. You realize how extreme things have to be for the ACLU to try to limit a defendant's rights - in the middle of a trial - after a few rulings on similar motions. Wilbert fucked up. The jury can't save him from his own errors.
posted by allen.spaulding at 12:59 PM on January 29, 2010 [17 favorites]


Also, Planned Parenthood is a great organization but Dr. Tiller did not belong to them nor did they have any close ties to him. Feel free to give to them, but you might also want to support organizations that support local independent abortion providers. Independent providers like Dr. Tiller are the ones that provide abortion care for fetal anomalies and other situations that require late-term abortions. There are funds that provide resources to low-income women who can't otherwise afford abortion care. I would recommend giving to them as well.
posted by allen.spaulding at 1:05 PM on January 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm really glad Kansas doesn't have the death penalty. I probably would have ended up feeling uncomfortably vindictive satisfaction otherwise.
posted by elizardbits at 1:10 PM on January 29, 2010


Kansas does have the death penalty, it is just used very sparingly (and I don't believe anyone has actually been executed via it).
posted by elisabethjw at 1:16 PM on January 29, 2010


No. Kansans are not idiots by definition. ... and the vast majority of Kansans are at least smart enough to think critically.

Y'know, I don't even live there but I want to defend Kansas, too -- a friend of mine moved there from Austin and lives in a teeeeeensy town way out in the middle of nowhere. I thought -- and this is me, coming from Ohio, not exactly the least-farm-iest state in the union -- that Kansas was a really creepy conservative place, and that I probably wouldn't like it.

Boy, was I wrong. With the exception of those TSA-wads at MCI who took away my coffee (bastards!), every single native Kansan I have met I have really, really liked. They're not space aliens, for god's sake.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 1:17 PM on January 29, 2010


MCI is technically in Missouri so I think that takes us Kansans off the hook! :)
posted by elisabethjw at 1:20 PM on January 29, 2010


I assume he would like us to be opposed to the death penalty and shoot the judges who order it?

Fuck no. I'd pull the switch (or hit the plunger) on that dude myself. With a big smile.
posted by fourcheesemac at 1:36 PM on January 29, 2010


I'm not planning to murder him. There is a huge gulf between finding somebody to be lacking as a human and deciding they should die. It's a really important disctinction that's being ellided in peopl's rush to tut-tut those who are expressing disgust at this murderer.

I don't think anyone was suggesting for one second that you or EatTheWeak or anyone is gearing up to murder anyone. But there are a number of people here who, in their very understandable anger at this abhorrent murder, are making (presumably for emotional reasons) an argumentative move that is exactly the same as the argumentative move used to justify murdering abortion providers. That doesn't mean you also share the same murderous proclivities.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 1:50 PM on January 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't want to get too far into this argument, but isn't this sort of reasoning almost identical to that which motivated Roeder himself? He was probably thinking "I'm okay with denying this murdering coward [Dr. Tiller] his humanity. He excused himself from the species when he decided to kill innocent babies." Of course, that's a terrible, reprehensible thing for Roeder to think or act on. But not because Dr. Tiller didn't deserve to die, it's because no one deserves to die. You can't surrender your human rights, at least not in my book, whether you're Scott Roeder or Dr. Tiller.

Taking the "no true Scotsman/human" approach to assigning human rights to people is a deadly mistake.


While this is an easy argument to agree with, the background debate over abortion makes it problematic. If you are willing to take the Pro-Life argument seriously, then you have to recognize that this is precisely what they see as the central issue - a refusal to recognize the humanity of the unborn. I'm not trying to argue this position myself, my sympathies are with those advocating for reproductive choice. But it's worth pointing out that abortion is such a terrible problem because there is no way of respecting all the rights of everyone involved - there is a necessity to consider someone, or some embryo if you will, as an obstacle in another's life, and thus a target deserving delivery of force.

I don't find it surprising that some abortion protesters turn to violence, and then compare their situation to John Brown or even the White Rose group (a curious choice for the Army of God, given the non-violence of the White Rose). They share an outrage in who had been declared to be less than equal. When you start off indignant at society legitimizing the unjust use of force, it's a short step to recognizing the necessity for righteous violence to serve one's political ends. This is a reasonable conclusion to draw from their assumptions.

Since this issue defies agreement and at its most stark, even dialogue, the only route is to attack the beliefs of the Pro-Lifer fringe. I think Nietzsche's emphasis on psychology and looking at why believe the things they claim is good advice here; broadcast who the people are that take both sides and let their respective beliefs be associated with their character. The recent articles in Esquire (on Dr. Hern) and GQ (on the assassination of Dr. Tiller) are good examples of an indirect, and perhaps unintentional, mustering of support for providing reproductive choice. Both articles describe the considerable and enduring sacrifices made by both men and their respective families, and more than that, their engagement with the particular and real. By contrast, almost all depictions of the Pro-Life fringe show them as having weird obsessions, somewhat empty lives and speaking in abstractions. Their stated political concerns come across as compensations for their own psychological issues. Scott Roeder is a great example, he fits the profile that Eric Hoffer sketched in The True Believer to a tee. The GQ piece, Savior vs. Savior, is particularly effective since the story is framed as a comparison between two men who are similar in the abstract, both willing to end life and face condemnation in order to save others, but when looked at closely couldn't be more different.
posted by BigSky at 1:54 PM on January 29, 2010 [6 favorites]


While this is an easy argument to agree with, the background debate over abortion makes it problematic. If you are willing to take the Pro-Life argument seriously, then you have to recognize that this is precisely what they see as the central issue - a refusal to recognize the humanity of the unborn. I'm not trying to argue this position myself, my sympathies are with those advocating for reproductive choice. But it's worth pointing out that abortion is such a terrible problem because there is no way of respecting all the rights of everyone involved - there is a necessity to consider someone, or some embryo if you will, as an obstacle in another's life, and thus a target deserving delivery of force.

I don't think this invalidates the caution against the No True Scotsman argument here (because nobody disagrees that the boundary between human life and not-human-life has to be drawn somewhere, and it takes infinitely more argumentative gymnastics to argue that Tiller or Roeder had somehow voluntarily crossed to the non-human side, either by performing abortions or killing an abortion provider, than that a developing fetus might not yet be human). But it is a really good point — that the only philosophically consistent pro-lifer is a doctor-murdering pro-lifer. Consider the alternative: you think abortion is mass murder on a vast scale, but you can't be bothered to intercede to stop it?

Obviously Roeder's philosophical consistency does not detract one iota from the utter repugnance of his actions. But it should give "moderate" anti-choicers pause for thought: their position is fundamentally incoherent. Especially when (as opinion polls confirm) they are usually happy to go along with what they claim to see as murder when the murder victim has been conceived as a result of rape.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 2:11 PM on January 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm always relieved and proud when I can point to examples of my fellow Kansans being sane and going against the religiofascist influences in the state. This verdict is one of those examples.
posted by amyms at 2:17 PM on January 29, 2010


because nobody disagrees that the boundary between human life and not-human-life has to be drawn somewhere

That isn't true, some hold that a single cell zygote should be recognized as human life.
posted by BigSky at 2:17 PM on January 29, 2010


it is a dirty job and the people who do it are dirty people

It's a hard job, and the people who do it are often the only thing standing between the enormous power of the state and sending an innocent person to prison. (And sometimes they have to represent vile human beings like this. The system would be even more flawed than it already is if really really awful people weren't entitled to a zealous defense. Maybe we should have dispensed with the trial and sent Roeder to Gitmo?)
posted by Mavri at 2:21 PM on January 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


And as a follow-up to my own longish ramble, Emily Bazelon in Slate writes roughly the same thing.
posted by allen.spaulding at 2:26 PM on January 29, 2010


Had the Judge done his job and limited imperfect self-defense to situations where a defendant subjectively but unreasonably believed that a crime was to imminently occur - specifically a crime where the victim would have the right to use deadly force in self-defense. That's what the law says. It makes sense. While imminence may have been a factual matter that required evidence to be presented (itself an iffy position) the lack of a requisite underlying crime was a legal matter that the judge should have decided from the outset of the case.

I think this is where we disagree. It's beyond dispute that Roeder subjectively believed he was protecting people, and it's beyond dispute that the belief was unreasonable. The only element the judge was hearing evidence on was the imminence. I think it was wise of him to allow the defense to try and present evidence for the lesser included offenses as opposed to not allowing them to do so. He knew that this case was getting a high profile appeal no matter what he did, so he played it so that any appellate court would have a hard as hell time ruling that the abused his discretion.

After hearing the evidence it was clear that the imminence element wasn't there and it didn't go to the jury. The jury found him guilty of first degree murder and there we go. This as clean a conviction as we could ask for, and I'm glad for that.
posted by Doublewhiskeycokenoice at 2:30 PM on January 29, 2010


It's beyond dispute that Roeder subjectively believed he was protecting people, and it's beyond dispute that the belief was unreasonable. The only element the judge was hearing evidence on was the imminence.

No. There's more to the law. The defendant must also be reacting to an imminent crime recognized under Kansas law (and one that would give rise to the use of deadly force in self-defense). That's a legal matter. That's why my group and the ACLU filed the weirdo motion.

If you honestly believe that theft is equivalent to murdering a storekeeper, you can't shoot a shoplifter. If you believe the eating meat is murder you can't murder someone working at McDonalds. The defense's legal strategy was invalid from the get-go.

If Roeder thought that Dr. Tiller was going to murder someone in church, he could have used that defense. He couldn't argue he was saving fetuses, a crime which is not recognized under Kansas law as valid for the voluntary manslaughter reduction.
posted by allen.spaulding at 2:48 PM on January 29, 2010


If Roeder thought that Dr. Tiller was going to murder someone in church, he could have used that defense. He couldn't argue he was saving fetuses, a crime which is not recognized under Kansas law as valid for the voluntary manslaughter reduction.

What's the problem? This is exactly how the judge ruled. The jury wasn't allowed to consider any crime other than first degree murder so where's the beef? Is is just that Roeder was allowed to try and prove there was enough evidence to allow the jury to consider lesser included offenses? Because if that's it then I have to take Roeder's side as distasteful as it may be.
posted by Doublewhiskeycokenoice at 3:03 PM on January 29, 2010


because nobody disagrees that the boundary between human life and not-human-life has to be drawn somewhere

That isn't true, some hold that a single cell zygote should be recognized as human life.


Oh, sorry — my point was just that it does, technically, have to be drawn somewhere. (Nobody believes a table is human life.) There is a human side to the line and a not-human side, and while the abortion debate rages at the level of zygotes and fetuses, the idea that you can cross back over the line in adulthood is a much more complicated and far-fetched idea than simply arguing about where to draw the line. Thus, the No True Scotsman warning as applied to Roeder (or Tiller's) "non-humanity" isn't necessarily demolished by noting that there's a lot of argument about where to draw the line. I basically agree with all you're saying here though.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 3:09 PM on January 29, 2010


I've been meaning for a few weeks to go back to that thread to dig out the link to donate to Medical Students for Choice, which helps train successors to Dr. Tiller. Grateful the guy was convicted, and grateful for the ref back to the original thread so I can finally get off my ass and donate.
posted by range at 3:16 PM on January 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


Thanks for the comments on the legal side of things, allen.spaulding. It's really interesting, as a layperson, to hear how the laws in these kind of things are actually framed.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 3:24 PM on January 29, 2010


Or, the obituaries of the women that couldn't get the medical care they needed. The statement of those women's spouses. Parents. Other children.

Perhaps the bereaved could be encouraged to visit him in prison and let it all out in his general direction, as a form of therapeutic catharsis.
posted by Grangousier at 3:57 PM on January 29, 2010


What's the problem?

timing. This should have been decided as a pretrial motion or at least before the defense presented its case. That's why the ACLU got involved. The delay turned the defense into a poltical stunt and a hideous one at that
posted by allen.spaulding at 3:57 PM on January 29, 2010


my point was just that it does, technically, have to be drawn somewhere. (Nobody believes a table is human life.) There is a human side to the line and a not-human side, and while the abortion debate rages at the level of zygotes and fetuses, the idea that you can cross back over the line in adulthood is a much more complicated and far-fetched idea than simply arguing about where to draw the line. Thus, the No True Scotsman warning as applied to Roeder (or Tiller's) "non-humanity" isn't necessarily demolished by noting that there's a lot of argument about where to draw the line.

OK. I get it. What got me writing, was imagining how a rabid Pro-Lifer might take the direct criticism in the post I originally quoted. And in the larger debate the No True Scotsman warning simply doesn't have the power to convince them. You can make a long list of their faults, but immunity to that argument isn't one of them.

Anyway, yes, I do agree that for those of us who don't equate abortion to genocide, the No True Scotsman warning is intact and well worth heeding.
posted by BigSky at 4:02 PM on January 29, 2010


Thankfully, juries have thus far declined to condone violence towards abortion providers. I think that's a pretty good indication that a silent majority of Americans believe that a woman has a right to an abortion if she so chooses, even as many states restrict it further.
posted by wierdo at 4:47 PM on January 29, 2010


I know I've already expressed this sentiment along with everyone else, but I am so beyond relieved that Roeder was convicted. Tiller's murder last May hit particularly close to home for me, and I'm glad that this particular chapter of that tragedy has come to a just close.

I got pregnant in mid-January 2009. The first few weeks of excitement and delight were soon eclipsed by worry when I read about the dangers of having elevated glucose readings in the first six to eight weeks of a pregnancy. It worried me because I had had a moderately elevated reading over a year ago, but since my husband is a diabetic, we were already doing all the things you're supposed to (high fiber, high protein, low carbs, no soda, exercise on a [mostly] regular basis) to keep your numbers low. So I stole his glucose meter for a couple of days, and was absolutely panicked by the numbers I saw: high 200's, just scraping up against 300 on occasion. The a1c they ran when I went in for my pregnancy blood test confirmed it, as I clocked in at 9.5. For those who aren't familiar, your a1c, which indicates whether or not your glucose has been running high over a period of three months, is supposed to be in the 4-6 range. Doctors start talking about hospitalization at 11.

And all of this was discovered around week 7 of my pregnancy. My 9.5 meant that a) it was not gestational diabetes, because b) I had been running high well before I even got pregnant. Once my OB realized the situation I was facing, I was immediately classified as high-risk, met with the folks at Maternal Fetal Medicine the next day, and was placed on insulin the day after that.

The meeting at MFM wasn't grim, exactly, but they definitely pulled no punches when they told me the laundry list of side effects that can occur as the result of high blood sugar in the earliest weeks of the pregnancy: Heart malformation. Severe joint and limb malformation. Elevated risk of miscarriage. Elevated risk of stillbirth. All sorts of birth defects. And, if I got through the first trimester without losing the pregnancy (which was a much bigger-than-usual if), any kind of structural deformities couldn't be identified until week 20, and the fetal echocardiogram couldn't be performed until week 24, because the fetus was too small to see things like the four chambers of the heart before then.

So basically I spent the first half of my pregnancy worried. Every day. Every thought I had about being pregnant was accompanied by a very sinister "what if..." What if something goes wrong? What do we do? And Kansas was one of our options, even though I absolutely dreaded the thought and prayed that it would never come to that.

We were, in retrospect, supremely lucky. The 20th week ultrasound, and the ones that preceded and followed that one, revealed no issues. My screens came back normal. I was the most tightly-controlled pregnant diabetic my endocrinologist had ever seen. By mid-May my a1c was a stellar 5.3.

It was the week after my 20th week ultrasound that Dr. Tiller was killed, and it absolutely stunned and saddened me, as it did everyone here. But what was especially painful for me were the stories women who were booked for his clinic the very next day and who had to turn around and travel the hundreds of miles back to where they came because that so very, very easily could've been me. My child could've had a heart defect that would've precluded bringing the pregnancy to term. And we would've had one less place to turn, because there was one less doctor who would've shepherded us through that agonizing process.

My mom is, as I've mentioned before on here, vehemently pro-life. I know she fully expected this pregnancy to convert me to her side, especially now that I have an adorable baby girl. "Look at her," she said to me, just once, "how could you have ever thought about getting rid of that beautiful, beautiful sweetheart."

I smile at her, and I don't engage, because I know it won't do any good in the end. But the truth is that being pregnant, going through those months of worry, living with that cold anxiety for day after day? Made me all the more vigorously pro-choice. I am so glad Roeder was convicted. I hope, I hope, I hope that many other doctors will be brave and follow in Tiller's footsteps, because there will always be a woman who was not as fortunate as I, and she deserves nothing less than the ability to end her pregnancy with dignity, with compassion, with privacy, and free from all fear and judgment.
posted by shiu mai baby at 4:57 PM on January 29, 2010 [49 favorites]


Thank you for sharing Shiu may baby.

That is an incredible story. I'm glad it worked out in the end, tho.
posted by sio42 at 5:36 PM on January 29, 2010


I'm a "secular Buddhist." I believe that suffering is universal. So, my rule is: try not to add to it. And, when the opportunity presents itself, try to relieve some of it when you can.

I think Dr Tiller was trying to help the world the best he could. I think Mr Roeder couldn't understand that, and only added to the world's pain.
posted by SPrintF at 7:34 PM on January 29, 2010


I don't know anything about Roeder's defense attorney, except that he's a public defender.

it's interesting that those few who believe that roeder was justified and that he didn't get a fair trial couldn't be bothered to pony up the money to get him a private lawyer

if they were that concerned about it, where was his legal defense fund?
posted by pyramid termite at 8:41 PM on January 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Human beings kill each other all the time. It's unpleasant and unfortunate and we like to draw all kinds of clever little lines and put "human being" and "not human being" on opposite sides of those lines and use that as an excuse for all manner of behavior, but ultimately if you want a criteria for that, you're going to have to find a better one than "murderer", since murder is kind of one of the most popular activities human beings have figured out.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:41 PM on January 29, 2010


pt I think Roeder, based on his desperate attempts last year to get the judge to set bail, believed that Operation Rescue was going to pony up to defend him.

I hope it hurt miserably when he realized that once he'd served his purpose, he'd been thrown away like a shell casing.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:43 PM on January 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


*spits in Roeder's general direction*

I do so hope that's not overly aggressive.
posted by mediareport at 9:13 PM on January 29, 2010


I gotta concede to the objections made to my initial, overcooked comment. That is the devilry of it, isn't it, that anger over inhuman behavior is the root of inhuman behavior? There's no such thing as a villain in real life - everyone who has done something awful thought he was doing it for the greater good. Guys like Roeder make me sick and angry and prone to saying the dumb shit that guys like Roeder convince themselves of deeply enough that they're was willing to commit murder over it. My bad.
posted by EatTheWeak at 10:20 PM on January 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm rather amazed that Heyho's comment upset folks and mine further upthread about it being a shame Roeder can't be fed to a wood chipper didn't.
I thought the wood chipper comment was gruesome and inappropriate, but I was primed by local news.

Good riddance to Roeder in any case.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 4:52 AM on January 30, 2010


Holy cheezit, what a terrible way to go.
posted by Rhomboid at 5:21 AM on January 30, 2010


That's why we have rape shield laws. I wouldn't go so far as to say "it's a bad job and you're a bad person" but it is a dirty job and the people who do it are dirty people.

I don't find anything dirty about making sure someone has a fair trial. I'm very, VERY tired of the sentiment that a public defender or defense lawyer or appellate courts are awful people and places. You'd be screaming for the best defense possible if you were accused of a crime.

(Obviously, this man did this crime. But as others have said, he deserves the best defense possible, not for the least of reasons so that his case won't have anywhere to go on appeal. We all want the system to work as well as it can, and that includes the best legal defense.)
posted by agregoli at 8:36 AM on January 30, 2010 [4 favorites]


I hope the brevity of the deliberation isn't somehow used as a criterion for appeal.

There's no chance of a successful appeal that doesn't end with him going to trial again and being convicted again.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:42 AM on January 30, 2010


We all want the system to work as well as it can, and that includes the best legal defense.)

Yes, but it also has to operate within the bounds of professional ethics. In most jurisdictions, defense counsel cannot argue for jury nullification. I know the DC bar better than the Kansas bar, but here is the relevant rule. Furthermore, there are ethical limitations regarding attacking the victim's character (as well as evidentiary limitations as well).

Again, I'm not able to be perfect unbiased (as though such a thing is possible, let alone desirable). Dr. Tiller was a member of my organization, his absence continues to devastate my coworkers, me, and millions of others. I worked closely on this trial and even had a few of my colleagues in the courtroom at all points in time. That said, the judge just did not do his job. The last two days of the trial - starting with Phil Kline's proffer and ending with the closing statement were just incredible and unbearable. For all his talk about not letting his courtroom turn into a circus - that's all it was. And my professional opinion is that the judge let a deep-seated fear of being seen as incompetent override his legal duty to uphold the law. His failures as a judge put the public defenders in a terrible position but they crossed an ethical line with their closing statements and ought to be sanctioned.
posted by allen.spaulding at 10:43 AM on January 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


I just want to point out that the public defender was absolutely outrageous in his closing statement. He compared Roeder to Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King while comparing Dr. Tiller to Hitler and Stalin. He then told the jury that since the time of the Magna Carta they were responsible for deciding what the law should be and strongly urged jury nullification, based on Roeder's convictions. Classy.

That's insane. He doesn't get the right to present the defense of his client in a way that puts him in the best light. That's the price of being a lawyer. The client needs help, and you are required to help, even if he is guilty as all hell. Do not get on him for doing his job the best he can.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:45 AM on January 30, 2010


You can even say his close was unethical. But to suggest that he should be "classy" in the defense of his client is simply unfathomable. A defense attorney is there to protect his client at any cost, counselor. That one word indicates to me that you are putting your understandably deep feelings about this case above the key ideas that make the legal profession work right.

I defend some bad clients. I would never, ever, ever once consider whether or not I would be perceived as "classy" be any impediment to the zealous advocacy I owe my client.

Roder was a bad man. That does not mean that as a citizen and a human being he does not have legal interests to be protected.

Having real clients often changes one's perspective on the practice of law.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:53 AM on January 30, 2010


But to suggest that he should be "classy" in the defense of his client is simply unfathomable.

That's ridiculous. When the facts are on your side, bang on the facts. When the law is on your side bang on the law. When you have nothing else, play off the bigotry and prejudice of the jury in the hope that dehumanizing the dead in their eyes will result in jury nullification? That's ok with you?

I want zealous advocacy and I want it to follow professional ethics. I want a defense attorney who openly advocated for jury nullification to be held accountable for violating those rules I want him sanctioned for a terrible choice that he made. And trying to pull rank about clients is disgusting and you know it. I have real clients. One of them was killed by Scott Roeder.* Roeder spent ten years planning his murder and proudly admitted it in open court. He used that opportunity to urge others to kill more of my clients. And then, in closing, Roeder's attorney attacked the dead in violation of long-established rules of professional ethics. And he did so in a despicable way. He didn't just ask for nullification, he told the jury that the deceased deserved to die, that he was as bad as Hitler and Stalin, and that history would judge the jury as heroes if they acquitted Roeder (and that they would be condemned if they found him guilty). Thank God it didn't work. Let's not give him another chance.

Also his grip on basic principles of evidence law was hilariously poor. I realize Sedgwick County may not get the best attorneys on either side of this case, but multiple articles could be written about how badly this trial was conducted by all parties.

And I stand by what I said earlier about the ACLU. If the ACLU is stepping in to say that a criminal defendant should not be able to make a certain argument, I think it's a pretty clear sign that things have gone way off the reservation. Do you disagree with them? Many of my friends are PDs and it's a community that I respect. I don't like making these claims and I do so with hesitation. Yet we have a case of someone going too far to the point where we need to talk about sanctions. And he didn't just go too far, he did so in a way that is disgusting.


* Sort of. Roeder assassinated Dr. Tiller a month before I started working for my current employer - an organization of which Tiller was a prominent member and had been for decades. So technically I never represented him or his clinic.
posted by allen.spaulding at 11:33 AM on January 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


And I'm somewhat sympathetic to the PDs. Not only did their client insist on taking the stand and confessing everything without remorse (in addition to filing a 104 page pro se brief he wrote himself) but the judge screwed them. The inexplicable idea of ruling on the imperfect self-defense instruction until after the defense presented its case made their job impossible. They had spent their whole case on trying to show voluntary manslaughter and once that was precluded they had nothing. They could have potentially made a real case had that been decided properly.

But it doesn't excuse the closing any more than it would excuse them if they suborned perjury or violated other laws. You can't directly invoke nullification and ask the jury to replace the judge's instructions with their own ideas about what the law should be. Magna Carta be damned.
posted by allen.spaulding at 11:41 AM on January 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think we should use a combination of debilitating brain surgery and brutal Clockwork Orange-like brain washing to reprogram Roeder. It would certainly be wrong to kill him, and the prison-industrial complex is wrong for almost everyone, I guess a horribly distopian violation of his brain is the best option to deal with this monster.
posted by fuq at 1:39 PM on January 30, 2010


allen.spaulding wrote: But it doesn't excuse the closing any more than it would excuse them if they suborned perjury or violated other laws. You can't directly invoke nullification and ask the jury to replace the judge's instructions with their own ideas about what the law should be. Magna Carta be damned.

Isn't that a question of state law? As I understand it, different states have different rules regarding what exactly an attorney can say to a jury regarding nullification. Of course, I say this as someone who is a strong supporter of jury nullification.
posted by wierdo at 3:21 PM on January 30, 2010


I support jury nullification. I do not support what this lawyer did. I consider it reprehensible, unethical, and beyond the bounds of a vigorous defense -- as I stated before, I consider it the moral equivalent of the "she was asking for it; look at the way she was dressed" defense.
posted by Astro Zombie at 4:53 PM on January 30, 2010


Astro Zombie wrote: I support jury nullification. I do not support what this lawyer did. I consider it reprehensible, unethical, and beyond the bounds of a vigorous defense -- as I stated before, I consider it the moral equivalent of the "she was asking for it; look at the way she was dressed" defense.

If I ever find myself on the wrong side of a criminal complaint, I hope to $DIETY that my defense attorney will do whatever it takes to convince the jury to find me not guilty. Yes, even if it's unsavory. If I'm wrongly accused of rape, I want him or her to invoke the victim's history, if it's possible. If I'm accused of murdering an abortion doctor because I'm anti-abortion (which is patently absurd on its face, but nonetheless) I want him or her to compare the victim to Hitler, if need be.

I also want him or her to introduce the facts that prove I can't be guilty, if they exist.

If I'm actually guilty, I don't want any of that, I want someone who has the personal relationships necessary to get me a sweet plea agreement.

To be honest, when it comes to criminal defense, fuck propriety. There are rules that govern the behavior of attorneys. Within those bounds, I want my defense attorney to do whatever it takes. God knows the prosecution does.

The criminal justice system is already stacked against defendants. The last thing we need is the propriety police running around and making it even worse by attacking criminal defense attorneys for doing their jobs. I want fair trials, not nice trials.
posted by wierdo at 5:07 PM on January 30, 2010


If I'm wrongly accused of rape, I want him or her to invoke the victim's history, if it's possible. If I'm accused of murdering an abortion doctor because I'm anti-abortion (which is patently absurd on its face, but nonetheless) I want him or her to compare the victim to Hitler, if need be.

Yeah, not there with you. If I'm wrongly accused of rape and the lawyer starts playing the "she was asking for it" defense, I'm going to request a new lawyer. That's the thing about ethical behavior -- you have to do it even when it's really, really inconvenient, or they're not ethics at all.
posted by Astro Zombie at 5:36 PM on January 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


The last thing we need is the propriety police running around and making it even worse by attacking criminal defense attorneys for doing their jobs.

What the hell, why not have your counsel kidnap one of the juror's children and hold the kid ransom until a not-guilty verdict is returned. It may not be proper, but it's sure vigorous.
posted by allen.spaulding at 6:06 PM on January 30, 2010


I doubt that will ever creep up on him. In fact, I doubt he'll ever think he did the wrong thing by murdering Dr. Tiller. He's too self-righteous.

A life is a long time to wait and ruminate. Who knows? In ten, fifteen, thirty years, maybe he'll figure out what the magnitude of killing another human being is.

I think we should use a combination of debilitating brain surgery and brutal Clockwork Orange-like brain washing to reprogram Roeder. It would certainly be wrong to kill him, and the prison-industrial complex is wrong for almost everyone, I guess a horribly distopian violation of his brain is the best option to deal with this monster.


For what order and purpose?

Anyway, I don't like all the vengeance in this thread, and the attacking the defendant for doing everything he legally could to protect his client is also disheartening. As said, if I'm wrongly convicted of a crime because my defense attorney pulled punches, it's going to warm me up very little that he played nice as I sit in prison for a crime I didn't commit.

As for jury nullification, each state has their own laws on the books. He might have done nothing wrong by implying it as long as he didn't advocate it outright. I don't really know the law in Kansas though.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 6:55 PM on January 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Those are some great strawmen, guys. As I wrote, within the bounds of the rules. Thanks for playing, anyway.

And since this is MeTa: allen.spaulding, that was a complete dick thing to write. Way to debate honestly.
posted by wierdo at 8:59 PM on January 30, 2010


weirdo - in many jurisdictions the rules prohibit you from impugning the character of victims of some offenses (such as rape) and also also prohibit defense counsel from encouraging nullification. It's worth asking why we have these rules. It's worth figuring out whether society is better or worse off when defendants cannot play to the prejudices of the jury in certain circumstances. You want people to advocate within the rules but you don't seem interested in debating why the rules are the way they are and what they should be.

I don't see how anyone benefits from living in a society where defense counsel can give a closing argument like the one given in this case. I think there are easy ways to create bright-line rules that give defense counsel clear guidance and that would not chill zealous but necessary advocacy. You may want your defense counsel to go after a rape victim's sexual history but as a rule we don't allow that and for very good reasons. That's a clear rule that serves justice and makes us a better people.

This trial did not make us a better people and while justice was ultimately served, a number of clear errors by the judge makes it hard to pretend that it was a reasonable and just way to get to that conclusion. I've been clear here; the blame ultimately lies with the judge. And yet the defense counsel crossed important ethical lines.
posted by allen.spaulding at 9:18 PM on January 30, 2010


sorry for misspelling your username
posted by allen.spaulding at 9:19 PM on January 30, 2010


allen.spaulding: It's not that I'm uninterested in debating what the rules should be, I'm just saying that as the system stands today, the last thing we need to do is make it harder on defendants.

I'm also saying that regardless of the ethical implications of a particular line of reasoning used by an attorney in a closing argument, I think the defense counsel's greater ethical duty is to take advantage of the rules in whatever way possible to increase their client's chances of acquittal.

Ideally, the system would suck less in many ways. And yes, given the facts as you have presented them, the judge didn't do a good job here.

Regarding rape shield laws, I only have an issue with ones that don't allow the judge wide discretion in allowing questioning without the jury present to determine possible admissibility of such evidence. I haven't followed the subject in a long time, but I have a recollection of some states having rather strict bars against any sort of questioning about the victim's history, even without the jury present. If that is true, I think it does the defendant a great disservice in certain types of cases. Perhaps my recollection is wrong, I don't claim to have a perfect memory.
posted by wierdo at 9:50 PM on January 30, 2010


Based on your comment on rape shield bars to questioning outside the presence of the jury, I think you're still thinking of the impact the justice system has on defendants only - not the distributional impact it has on other members of society. Allowing aggressive questioning of rape victims serves no evidentiary purpose but it does discourage participation by victims of sexual assault, making out system less functional and less just. It wasn't that long ago that women couldn't testify in court at all - and we still carry with us the trappings of a judicial system that was more concerned with status than it was with adjudicatory accuracy.

Putting all that aside, there are an incredible number of judicial standards that do not make trials more accurate or more fair (outside of a Burkean notion of fairness, but that's another story). The confrontation clause may be the most extreme example of this, with Coy v. Iowa and the Crawford/Davis/Giles trilogy signs that something is wrong. There may be some costless changes to make which are easy - the ones we're talking about now may be harder.

In short, we need to stop thinking of evidentiary and procedural rules in terms of their impact on defendants alone - rather we need to think of this process as a dynamic system with distributional impacts on whose voices are heard, whose conception of justice is privileged, and who lacks access to justice. It's my real problem with nullification. As regressive as our legal system may be, trusting the status quo as embodied by 12 jurors to "do what's right" instead of what's legal has real distributional consequences. People tend to think of nullification in terms of drug laws but its real heritage is the legacy of letting white murderers go when their victims were non-white.
posted by allen.spaulding at 10:10 PM on January 30, 2010


I realize that was a little more academic than I intended.

Abortion had nothing to do with the trial and the word should never have been mentioned. A man walked into a church, having planned a murder for years and carefully set up the shooting. He held a gun to the head of his victim in front of many witnesses and killed him. He fled but was caught. He admitted to all of this.

The occupation of the victim is irrelevant to the essential elements of the case. Bringing it in just served to slur the dead (which was the defendant's real goal throughout the trial - that and trying to encourage others to continue his work). The same is true with many cases. Whether or not a woman was raped by a specific defendant has nothing to do with her previous behavior. While we may entertain stereotypes about people and there may be statistical data to back that up (which is always flawed and heavily dubious), it doesn't matter. The purpose of the jury as a fact-finder is to determine what happened in the present instance and irrelevant information serves only to bias the jury and to play off their prejudices. We should strive for adjudicatory accuracy and not cater to the prejudices of the status quo.

Getting in front of a jury and talking about the occupation of the victim in the hope that the jurors feel that murder was justified does not advance any principle of justice other than mob rule. What the defense counsel did here went much further. Would you feel the same way if the defense counsel in the murder of James Byrd got up and spend the whole time talking about how African-Americans were more likely to be criminals, were ruining our country, were taking our jobs, etc. How about if he used the N-word? What the defense counsel did here was worse.
posted by allen.spaulding at 10:17 PM on January 30, 2010


I do agree that this verdict isn't about abortion. Abortion was used as the reasoning behind what he did, and yes, must be understood how society pushes people that are already on the edge to commit atrocities. However, in the trial, the facts were: an unarmed man was gunned down at a church by the defendant in a premeditated fashion. Murder. Despite theatrics, it's pretty clear.

I know of no pro-life people at all that would support him, and I know quite a few. Hell, most of them are military, so it's not like they're squeamish about weaponry either. However they feel about what constitutes a human being (and therefore what must be protected), none of them would have either condoned nor done anything like this. I bet there were quite a few pro-lifers on the jury itself, but for 99.9% of pro-lifers out there, murder ranks as far more serious and abhorrent than abortion (for example, almost all that I know would make exceptions as far as rape and incest). So, no, I'm not really surprised at the verdict. I don't know of a single abortion doctor killer in the US that has ever had a lighter sentence than normal due to a sympathetic jury.

In the end, I just feel bad for everyone. A doctor who tried to do good in his life who was threatened and finally killed; a delusional man who was so wrapped up in his own world that he turned his unhappiness to murder and who will spend the rest of his natural life either hiding in that world of facing the painful realization of his acts, the other doctors who now fear even more due to Dr. Tiller's murder, the families of everyone involved, and we as a society with more dread that such forces as this can be unleashed so easily by well-meaning individuals that are prepared to do whatever it takes to correct "evil" in the world. We all lose when these things happen, no matter how much it galvanizes us. At least we have justice, but as far as emotional responses, there is only sorrow.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 10:56 PM on January 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Just to be clear, I am far more concerned about the rights of defendants, who are facing prison, than those of the victim, who will be personally no better or worse off at the end of the trial regardless of its outcome.

allen.spaulding wrote: Whether or not a woman was raped by a specific defendant has nothing to do with her previous behavior.

Sure, that's very true in the case of the "stranger rape" scenario. What if there is a real question of fact as to whether consent was obtained? Is it not important for the jury to know if the victim has a history of making (apparently) false complaints? I agree that in the open and shut cases where the only question is one of identity and not consent that rape shield laws do victims a great service.

Again, I fully agree that the closing in question was quite disgusting. I just don't agree that we should blame the defense for that. We should instead be thanking them for being willing to sully their good name for someone they probably harbor only ill will towards.
posted by wierdo at 1:21 PM on January 31, 2010


for 99.9% of pro-lifers out there, murder ranks as far more serious and abhorrent than abortion

Which is why a lot of people don't believe that pro-lifers really think abortion is murder.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:43 PM on January 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


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