AP: Feds want answers from Kansas abortion opponent

11/30/2012

WICHITA (AP) — The Justice Department has asked a federal judge to order a Kansas abortion opponent to answer the government's questions about her relationship with the man convicted in the murder of abortion provider George Tiller, including compelling her to admit to statements she made to The Associated Press in which she said she admired the then-accused killer.

WICHITA (AP) — The Justice Department has asked a federal judge to order a Kansas abortion opponent to answer the government's questions about her relationship with the man convicted in the murder of abortion provider George Tiller, including compelling her to admit to statements she made to The Associated Press in which she said she admired the then-accused killer.

The request comes amid legal wrangling in a civil lawsuit the Justice Department filed against Angel Dillard last year under a federal law aimed at protecting access to reproductive services. The government has accused Dillard of sending a threatening letter to a Wichita doctor who was training to offer abortion services in the wake of Tiller's 2009 death.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Kenneth Gale on Thursday gave Dillard's attorney, Donald McKinney, until Wednesday to respond to the government's motion for a court order that would force Dillard to answer the questions. The defense has said the government's inquiries are irrelevant, with McKinney repeatedly balking at the government's demands for information and arguing they violate Dillard's First Amendment freedoms of association, free exercise of religion and free speech.

The attorney also has objected to the quotation, first reported in a 2011 AP story, calling it "inaccurate, taken out of context, and/or edited," according to court records.

The AP, which recorded the telephone interview with Dillard, stands by the accuracy of its reporting.

The civil case is scheduled for trial in October 2013.

"Defendant has a relationship with the man convicted of Dr. Tiller's murder, Scott Roeder," the government argued in its motion, filed earlier this month. "Defendant has publicly supported Roeder and his actions, visits him in prison and corresponds with him. It is this relationship — this context — that informs Defendant's intent."

The government argued in its motion filed earlier this month that it is entitled to explore Dillard's relationship with Roeder, noting that the threatening January 2011 letter to Dr. Mila Means referenced Tiller's death. Roeder is serving a life sentence for the killing.

Abortions have not been openly performed in Wichita since Tiller, one of the nation's few late-term abortion providers, was fatally shot in May 2009 as he served as an usher at his Wichita church.

The lawsuit, filed by the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, contends Dillard of Valley Center told Means in the letter that thousands of people from across the United States are already looking into Means' background.

"They will know your habits and routines. They know where you shop, who your friends are, what you drive, where you live," the letter said. "You will be checking under your car everyday — because maybe today is the day someone places an explosive under it."

The government also seeks a court order requiring Dillard to respond to the government's questions about her jailhouse ministry and her relationship with another jailed inmate.

Dillard told the AP in a recorded telephone interview in July 2009 that she reached out to Roeder while he was in jail awaiting trial for Tiller's killing and developed a friendship with him.

"Quite honestly, as soon as I heard about it, I realized that he was able to accomplish what those of us in the pro-life movement had not been able to accomplish — we put millions of man hours in, protested, millions of dollars, attempts at legislation — and we were butting our heads up against the wall. We were not getting anywhere," she said in response to a question about why she initially wrote Roeder.

Dillard also said she believed Tiller would never be convicted of any crimes.

"With one move, (Roeder) was able ... to accomplish what we had not been able to do," Dillard said. "So he followed his convictions and I admire that."

Although the AP published other portions of Dillard's interview in a 2009 story about Roeder's contacts with several individuals on the fringes of the anti-abortion movement while he was in jail awaiting trial, the specific quotes now at issue were first published by AP in April 2011, when the Justice Department sued Dillard.

The government subsequently amended its complaint against Dillard to incorporate into it those quotes.

In its lawsuit under the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, the government said it must prove Dillard threatened force intentionally to intimidate Means from providing reproductive health services.

"Defendant's relationship with a convicted killer of a reproductive healthcare provider, and her publicly professed admiration of him, are directly related to the letter she sent to Dr. Means," the government argued in its filing. "Defendant's letter references slain abortion provider Dr. George Tiller, and her relationship with his killer provides context for the state of mind of both the sender and the recipient, each of which are at issue here."

The AP initially called Dillard in 2009 after learning the Federal Bureau of Investigation had questioned an anti-abortion leader in Kansas about Dillard's anti-abortion activities and her relationship with Roeder.

Meanwhile, the government also is seeking a protective order prohibiting widespread disclosure of its investigative records before it gives the defense certain information in the FBI's possession. The agency is concerned witnesses and others involved in the investigation could become the subjects of harassment or otherwise be targeted if their association with the FBI's abortion extremism probe was disclosed.

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