Illustration for article titled What Scott Roeders Voluntary Manslaughter Defense Really Means

One of the most confusing chapters in the saga of George Tiller's assassin Scott Roeder has been his quest to use a voluntary manslaughter defense. What does this mean, and will it work? Newsweek breaks it all down.


When Judge Warren Wilbert announced that he might allow Roeder's team to present a voluntary manslaughter defense, some feared Roeder could get as little as five years in prison. Kate Harding of Broadsheet wrote, "Whether that's because the letter of the law demands it or because Judge Wilbert's made poor decisions, something is very wrong when a man can argue that his demonstrably false conviction that another man committed murder mitigates his own conscious, premeditated choice to do so." But it hasn't been entirely clear how much of a case Roeder had, or even whether Wilbert would actually allow the manslaughter defense or was just considering allowing it. Newsweek's Sarah Kliff clears a lot of these points up. The basics:

— Wilbert will allow Roeder's lawyers to present a voluntary manslaughter defense. But if it's not plausible, he won't allow the jury to consider it, and they'll have to rule on murder only.
— In order for the defense to work, Roeder has to prove he thought Tiller's murder was "necessary to defend … a third person against [another's] imminent use of unlawful force."
— Since no abortions were "imminent" (Tiller was in church), and, more importantly, abortion isn't unlawful, Roeder's team is going to have an extremely hard time arguing for voluntary manslaughter.


The very fact that Wilbert is allowing the defense to present a voluntary manslaughter argument may be a victory for anti-choice forces, who have succeeded in bringing the issue of abortion into what would otherwise be, as Harding points out, an open-and-shut case. And Kliff asks, "Could the mere introduction of Roeder's manslaughter defense bias the jury in his favor? It's possible and, admittedly, an unfavorable situation for abortion-rights supporters." But it's unlikely that Roeder will be free again in five years, or that anti-abortion terrorists are going to get the open season they hope for.

Weak Defense [Newsweek]

Related: Manslaughter Defense Still An Option For Roeder [Broadsheet]

Earlier: Roeder May Get Reduced Sentence Because Of "Belief" That Murder Was Justified

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