Judge in Trial of Man Accused of Killing Dr. Tiller Courted Anti-Choice Group
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WICHITA, Kan. -- The judge overseeing the trial of the man accused of gunning down a Kansas abortion doctor is a practicing Roman Catholic who once courted the endorsement of an anti-abortion group - but who has insisted the case won't be about abortion.
Kansans for Life's political action committee endorsed Wilbert in that race, though it did not contribute to his campaign directly. The mainstream anti-abortion group does not espouse violence, and its political arm focuses on lobbying the state Legislature.
Finance records show that Wilbert paid the group $75 in September 2008 to have his name listed in an ad in its quarterly newsletter, a 6-by-11-inch booklet of 24 pages that included articles such as "Update on Tiller charges" and "Planned Parenthood - a Snake in the Grass!" The judge also spent more than $16,000 on radio spots on seven stations.
Wilbert has a reputation as a fair, no-nonsense judge. He has also received a $500 donation from Dan Monnat, one of Dr. Tiller's lawyers, in 2008. And in 2005, Judge Wilbert dismissed a lawsuit filed by Operation Rescue, the extremist anti-choice organization that prays for abortion providers to be executed. Advocates on both sides of the abortion issue expect him to be impartial in this case, and Judge Wilbert has promised that this trial won't be about abortion. But his unprecedented decision to allow Roeder to argue that he killed Dr. Tiller to protect the "preborn" from "imminent" danger -- essentially putting Dr. Tiller and his practice of a legal medical procedure on trial -- still raises questions about whether this trial won't really be about abortion, despite the judge's promises.