Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Necessity Defense

Word from NPR this morning is that the killer of Dr. George Tiller is seeking today to be allowed to present the so-called "necessity defense", that it was necessary to kill him to protect the life of unborn babies. This is ludicrous of course and one hopes the Wichita court system will have the good sense to laugh him out of court as he should be.

But it reminds me of that dark time in the early '90's when an unsuccessful attempt was made on the life of Dr. Tiller. The defendant in that case had the good fortune to draw Paul Clark as the Judge for her case. Now Paul Clark was normally one of the better Judges in Sedgwick County, so his actions in this case were inexplicable, at least inexplicable at first blush. In a series of actions on the case Clark revealed severe bias and a total absence of impartiality. For the first appearance of the defendant, he surreptitiously borrowed another Judge's courtroom, and sneaked into it while the news media waited in his courtroom to tape the appearance. He even passed one of the reporters on the stairs going up to the other courtroom (the stairs being the best way to sneak around, as they were used considerably less frequently than the elevators). He greeted the reporter but said nothing about the change in courtroom for the court appearance.

But this was only the start of Judge Clark's shenanigans on this case. The same request was made, and Clark *allowed* the necessity defense, making the case into a total mockery of justice. But why did Judge Clark do this? In retrospect, all these many years later, the answer seems clear. It was no secret at the time that Judge Clark was angling for an appointment to the Court of Appeals. The person making that appointment would have been the governor, who at that time was a pro-life Democrat. It appears Judge Clark was cynically trying to ingratiate himself to this Governor, so as to secure the appointment that he so desperately wanted.

The bottom line is that Clark never did get the appointment he sought, and the administrative judge for Sedgwick County ultimately removed him from the case because of his obvious bias. Sometimes lady justice prevails despite the best attempts of men to defeat her.

1 comment:

chessart said...

As a follow-up, the Wichita case of the man who *did" kill Dr. Tiller is going through some interesting pre-trial maneuverings. The defense has sought to present the" necessity defense", and from the first news reports I heard I thought it was going to be allowed.

But now I see that what is being allowed is that the defense can present evidence that the defendant believed force was necessary to save the lives of unborn children. The idea here is that this could knock the offense down to voluntary manslaughter. Indeed, it seems to fit the definition perfectly.

Abortion rights advocates are outraged, but a careful reading of the Judge's comments makes it clear that he is simply not precluding the defense at this time; the defense would still have to get evidence in, and the Judge made it clear he is not going to allow the trial to become a referendum on abortion, and he will be selective on what evidence he allows in. It does not seem that this ruling is very far off the mark, as the defendant probably *did* have such a belief, wrongheaded as it may be.