Cold-blooded Murder: An Angel Made Me Do It

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Jeff Schweitzer Scientist and former White House Senior Policy Analyst; Ph.D. in neurophysiology

We are all familiar with the "devil made me do it" defense, but now the tables have been turned. Scott Roeder argues that an angel compelled him to kill, or at least that is what he hopes will be his defense against the charge that he murdered Dr. George Tiller in cold blood.

By now we are sadly aware of the case in which Roeder has openly said in court that he killed "abortion doctor" Tiller. The facts of the case are not in dispute or being contested. So as the jury selection process continues, the wicket only gets sticky in how Roeder's stated motive will impact his defense.

Roeder claims that he gunned down Tiller at Sunday church services on May 31, 2009, in order to "save the lives of preborn children." Based on this claim, Roeder intends to invoke the "necessity defense" predicated on the idea of "justifiable homicide." If presiding judge Warren Wilbert accepts this defense strategy, and he appears to be leaning that way, he will give jurors the option of convicting Roeder not of premeditated murder but instead of voluntary manslaughter. That lesser crime is defined as "an unreasonable but honest belief that circumstances existed that justified deadly force" under Kansas statute. If convicted of involuntary manslaughter Roeder could be out of prison in five years.

Pause for a moment and consider the implication of the premise that killing abortion doctors is justifiable homicide. The meaning is clear: I can openly commit premeditated murder, but be guilty of nothing more serious than manslaughter, because I hold a different set of political beliefs and moral standards than my victim. I simply must believe that my actions are justified because I do not agree with my victim's personal convictions. Happy hunting!

With hunting season now open, I could kill anybody I choose on the belief that my act of homicide would save the lives of future targets of my victim's murderous ways. I make this ridiculous assertion because "defense of another person" is generally accepted as legal justification for killing a person in situations that would otherwise have been murder. So by twisting the logic of accepted notions of self defense, we could, under the banner of justifiable homicide, murder with cold premeditation any of the following people simply because we do not like how they conduct themselves:

  • Military officers, to protect innocent civilians that might get killed as collateral damage.

  • Any politician who is pro-choice and supports abortion rights, in order to protect "preborn children."

  • Pharmaceutical company executives who might release a drug that would lead to innocent deaths.

  • Insurance executives who might deny coverage to sick patients leading to their deaths.

  • Farmers who use pesticides because those chemicals might cause harm to people.

  • Cell phone company executives because the use of mobile devices might lead to brain cancer.

  • Judges, who imposes a light sentence on a criminal who might continue his killing spree when prematurely released from prison.

Judge Wilbert said that the jury should consider "...Mr. Roeder's beliefs, and how he came to form those beliefs." So if I kill an insurance executive, I just have to argue why I believe my actions to be justified, and how I came to those beliefs. More to the point, I can go out and murder any "pro-life" activist on the premise that I am saving the lives of all doctors who perform abortions!

Even Roeder's own legal team rejected any use of the necessity defense, arguing publicly that such justifiable homicide arguments have no basis in Kansas law. But the inherent absurdity of Roeder's potential defense is apparently lost on Judge Wilbert, who has by accepting Roeder's logic unwittingly declared open season on abortion doctors. This is the type of judicial "activism" and overreach that conservatives so piously despise, yet we hear no outcry from the right-wing echo chamber.

Roeder killed Tiller in cold blood, with premeditation. That Judge Wilbert might instruct jurors to consider involuntary manslaughter is a travesty of justice, and a gross violation of everything decent in our legal system. Allowing "potentially protecting innocent life" as a defense for first degree murder undermines our judicial system and encourages the worst kind of sick violence.

And conservatives rejoice.