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January 29, 2010

Abortion doctor killer convicted (and subject to mandatory life WITH parole sentence) in Kansas

As detailed in this new Wall Street Journal report, a jury in Topeka, Kansas "took less than 40 minutes Friday to find Scott Roeder guilty of first-degree murder for shooting abortion provider George Tiller in a church here last May."  Here is how the WSJpiece describes the sentencing consequences: "The murder conviction carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison, though under Kansas law, parole is possible [in 25 years, I believe]. Mr. Roeder, 51 years old, will be sentenced in March."

Especially because the nature of this kind of crime can perhaps distort usual sentencing politics, I wonder if folks that are usually vocal opponents of both the death penalty and mandatory minimum sentencing provisions are at all troubled that Roeder is not eligible for the death penalty or that he is subject to a mandatory minimum sentence here.  Conversely, I wonder if folks who are usually vocal proponents of both the death penalty and mandatory life without parole sentences for first-degree murderers are at all troubled that Roeder is not going to be facing either of these sentences for his crime.

On a related front, this Newsweek blog post notes that abortion doctor killers have generally gotten harsher sentences in other jurisdictions:

Harsh punishment for violence against abortion doctors has not proven a deterrent in preventing such crimes.  Michael Griffin was sentenced to life in prison after murdering abortion provider David Gunn in 1993.  The next abortion-provider murderer, Paul J. Hill, who killed a Florida provider in 1994, received lethal injection.  But that did not prevent a wave of anti-abortion violence in the 1990s that left three clinic workers and one abortion provider dead.  Roeder acknowledged that he had begun thinking about killing Tiller as early as 1993, and in great detail — he told the jury how he considered cutting off Tiller's hands with a sword or tracking him down at his house.  The repeated life or death sentences of those who have murdered abortion providers apparently provided no deterrent.  As long as there are extreme anti-abortion groups who praise Roeder as an "American hero," abortion providers will have to continue to see the threat of violence a part of the profession they chose.

Of course, astute punishment theorists should be quick to respond to this blog post by noting that Roeder crime alone does not definitively show that "[h]arsh punishment for violence against abortion doctors has not proven a deterrent in preventing such crimes."  For all we know, absent the tough punishments given to Gunn and Hill, perhaps there would have been many more killings of abortion doctors.  In other words, the fact that Roeder was not deterred does not necessarily mean that others weren't.  

January 29, 2010 at 01:53 PM | Permalink

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Comments

"For all we know, absent the tough punishments given to Gunn and Hill, perhaps there would have been many more killings of abortion doctors. In other words, the fact that Roeder was not deterred does not necessarily mean that others weren't."

Well put.

Posted by: federalist | Jan 29, 2010 2:48:20 PM

I am certainly troubled that this crime was not/could not (I don't know which is the case under Kansas law) be pursued as a death eligible offense. If non-torture killing of non government actors are to carry a death sentence I fail to see how such a cold killing as this should not meet the standard.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Jan 29, 2010 3:44:05 PM

Because abortion is a religious issue, and in this country we give a sentencing discount when you follow your religious convictions.

Unless you're Muslim.

Posted by: Res ipsa | Jan 29, 2010 3:58:44 PM

That's right, Res ipsa. Whenever the Kansas legislature passed the current 1st degree murder statute, it was contemplating this situation, and decided to give everyone convicted of 1st degree murder a lesser mandatory sentence just in case this came up.

Posted by: Jay | Jan 29, 2010 5:37:17 PM

Jay. And do you have proof they didn't? Kansas has been a hot bed of anti-abortion fever for a long time. I freely admit that I don't have any proof that they did. I just don't find Res ipsa thesis far-fetched; rather I think it is plausible

Posted by: Daniel | Jan 29, 2010 5:44:13 PM

Soronel and federalist --

Spot on. This was as cold-blooded a killing as you'll see. No matter where one stands on the abortion question, it's far-fetched to think that walking into a church service and coolly blowing someone's head off deserves anything other than the sternest punishment the law allows.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jan 29, 2010 5:53:51 PM

This man is a domestic terrorist. Death should be the punishment here. I am pro-life, but I am also pro-rule of law, and the bottom line is that abortion is a protected right in this country, and those that interfere with it are criminals, and those who kill in support of their political objectives deserve harsh punishment.

Posted by: federalist | Jan 29, 2010 6:01:00 PM

"I wonder if folks who are usually vocal proponents of both the death penalty and mandatory life without parole sentences for first-degree murderers are at all troubled that Roeder is not going to be facing either of these sentences for his crime."

Is anyone pushing for mandatory LWOP for all first-degree murders? I haven't heard of such a drive.

It's not uncommon for a particular case that should be capital to be ineligible for the death penalty under the particular state's law. How often that happens, of course, depends on how narrow the state's law is. They vary widely. Anyhow, I'm not pushing to broaden eligibility. It's more important to enforce the law we have now.

For the federal statute, BTW, ineligibility for the death penalty is a deliberate choice of the legislative authority, not an accidental omission. When Congress passed the FACE act, it decided that life imprisonment would be the punishment for this crime, if prosecuted by the feds.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Jan 29, 2010 6:26:30 PM

Unless any doubt lingers about his carrying out the homicide, he needs to be taken to the basement of the court, and hanged privately.

Had he killed this butcher doctor in the course of an abortion of a viable baby, the necessity defense should have been accepted. However, the feminists and their male running dogs totally control the law and the courts. The justification would have failed anyway.

The defendant should accept his martyrdom to save us from the vile feminist tyrants and thought police. His friends in the movement would then have justification for self-help. The feminist lawyer has the legal system rigged airtight, and there is no legal recourse for those trying to save the lives of viable babies. Airtight rigging, and self-dealt immunities justify self-help.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jan 29, 2010 8:19:26 PM

As if I needed another reason to totally disregard anything Supremacy Clause posts, this one sealed the deal for me. It just discredits anything he has written or could write in the future. Well done.

Posted by: Domino | Jan 29, 2010 8:45:14 PM

Since 1994, Kansas law has defined the following categories of murders as capital offenses:

"Statute 21-3439: Capital murder. (a) Capital murder is the:
(1) Intentional and premeditated killing of any person in the commission of kidnapping, as defined in K.S.A. 21-3420 and amendments thereto, or aggravated kidnapping, as defined in K.S.A. 21-3421 and amendments thereto, when the kidnapping or aggravated kidnapping was committed with the intent to hold such person for ransom;

(2) intentional and premeditated killing of any person pursuant to a contract or agreement to kill such person or being a party to the contract or agreement pursuant to which such person is killed;

(3) intentional and premeditated killing of any person by an inmate or prisoner confined in a state correctional institution, community correctional institution or jail or while in the custody of an officer or employee of a state correctional institution, community correctional institution or jail;

(4) intentional and premeditated killing of the victim of one of the following crimes in the commission of, or subsequent to, such crime: Rape, as defined in K.S.A. 21-3502 and amendments thereto, criminal sodomy, as defined in subsections (a)(2) or (a)(3) of K.S.A. 21-3505 and amendments thereto or aggravated criminal sodomy, as defined in K.S.A. 21-3506 and amendments thereto, or any attempt thereof, as defined in K.S.A. 21-3301 and amendments thereto;

(5) intentional and premeditated killing of a law enforcement officer, as defined in K.S.A. 21-3110 and amendments thereto;

(6) intentional and premeditated killing of more than one person as a part of the same act or transaction or in two or more acts or transactions connected together or constituting parts of a common scheme or course of conduct; or

(7) intentional and premeditated killing of a child under the age of 14 in the commission of kidnapping, as defined in K.S.A. 21-3420 and amendments thereto, or aggravated kidnapping, as defined in K.S.A. 21-3421 and amendments thereto, when the kidnapping or aggravated kidnapping was committed with intent to commit a sex offense upon or with the child or with intent that the child commit or submit to a sex offense."

It seems clear that the murder of Dr. Tiller does not fall within any of these categories. People can disagree about whether the death penalty should be applicable to a wider or narrower or different set of murders or to any at all. But, there is absolutely nothing to support Res Ipsa's and Daniel's suggestion that the Kansas legislature defined these categories with the specific purpose of excluding murders of abortion providers.

Posted by: Alan Viard | Jan 29, 2010 8:47:44 PM

Fortunately, Domino, I came to that same conclusion a long time ago. I always, always look first to the Name on the post to see if it's Supremacy Clause. If yes, move on. If no, read on.

Posted by: reflex | Jan 30, 2010 10:51:00 AM

Kent, it was my understanding that NJ replaced its DP with mandatory LWOP for first-degree murderers. It is also my understanding that a variety of other states with capital punishment have mandatory LWOP as an alternative to the death penalty if/when the jury does not vote for death. As I have complained in the past, it is sometimes (often?) the anti-DP crowd pushing for mandatory LWOP as an alternative.

Posted by: Doug B. | Jan 30, 2010 11:45:48 AM

Prof. Berman reads my comments for news of the outside world in this Twilight Zone lawyer prison of the mind. Twilight Zone and in total denial about the location. And anyone bringing any dose of outside reality must be crushed by the cult.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jan 30, 2010 7:08:09 PM

I am pro-choice and anti-death penalty. Knowing that the Kansas murderer will either die in prison or be paroled as a very old man is enough for me.

Posted by: defense lawyer | Feb 1, 2010 1:20:41 PM

"Is anyone pushing for mandatory LWOP for all first-degree murders? I haven't heard of such a drive."

There is no need for such a drive in Colorado. There is mandatory LWOP for all non-juvenile first-degree murders (excluding, of course, first-degree murders for which a death penalty is imposed, and you can count the number of people on death row in the state on your fingers).

I don't know how common this is, but I doubt that Colorado is the only state of this kind.

Notably, the lion's share of juvenile LWOP cases in Colorado involve first-degree murders (usually under felony-murder statutes involve accomplice liability) under prior law, where there is a good chance that a sentencing judge would not have imposed LWOP if it wasn't mandatory. Now, juvenile LWOP has been replaced with juvenile 40 years without parole in Colorado.

Posted by: ohwilleke | Feb 1, 2010 4:21:46 PM

During the hearing, four of Roeder's friends described him as a friendly, compassionate man who became angry at the state's refusal to stop Tiller's practice. He was motivated by a strong believe that abortion is wrong, not a desire to become famous or lead a movement, they said.

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