Tiller Shooting Trial May Revisit Abortion Debate

Prosecutors against the accused killer of abortion provider Dr. George Tiller filed on Monday a motion in an attempt to keep abortion out of the trial.

The trial of Scott Roeder was delayed to Wednesday.

Prosecutors filed the motion after Sedgwick County Judge Warren Wilbert said he would consider giving the jury the option of convicting Roeder on voluntary manslaughter.

Such a conviction carries a less severe penalty than murder. It is defined as "an unreasonable but honest belief that circumstances existed that justified deadly force" under Kansas law.

"The State encourages this Court to not be the first to enable a defendant to justify premeditated murder because of an emotionally charged political belief," the prosecution wrote, according to The Kansas City Star. "Such a ruling has far reaching consequences and would be contrary to Kansas law."

Despite the judge's assurance that "this will not become a trial of the abortion issues," prosecutors, who intended for the trial to be a murder case, argue that allowing arguments of voluntary manslaughter could open the door to an abortion debate.

A 51-year-old Kansas City native, Roeder is charged with first-degree murder in the shooting of Tiller, who was one of the few late-term abortion practitioners in the country, on May 31, 2009. The shooting took place at Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita, where Tiller worshipped.

Pastors there say a few people are still struggling with the shooting that took place last year. While providing support for the congregation, they're also keeping the Tiller and Roeder families in prayer, as reported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America News Service.

"As Christians we're called to love our enemies, even praying for those who seek to do us harm," said Gerald L. Mansholt, bishop of the ELCA Central States Synod, Kansas City. "We want justice to be done, but we remember our calling as Christians to be peacemakers ourselves, and build bridges."

Roeder has not denied shooting the abortion doctor. He told AP in an earlier interview, "Defending innocent life – that is what prompted me. It is pretty simple."

Judge Wilbert has rejected Roeder's attempt to present a necessity defense, in which he would argue that a breach of law was necessary in order to prevent greater harm (in this case, the killing of unborn babies).

Though skeptical that Roeder's lawyers could argue that the accused killer used deadly force to save the lives of others, Wilbert said he will remain open-minded.

Abortion advocates are outraged that the judge would allow the defense to present evidence of voluntary manslaughter. Some fear it could lead to increased violence against abortion doctors.

"Taken to its logical extreme, this line of thinking would allow anyone to commit premeditated murder, but only be guilty of manslaughter, simply because the victim holds a different set of moral and political beliefs than the attacker," the prosecution wrote.

Christians and pro-life groups across the country have condemned the murder of Tiller and distanced themselves from Roeder. While Tiller was a target of many pro-life protests, most groups do not justify his killing.

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