WICHITA, Kan.-A jury Friday found abortionist George Tiller not guilty on 19 counts of performing illegal late-term abortions. Tiller could have faced prison time if found guilty on even one count; now, the most he will face is the possible revocation of his medical license and fines after the Kansas State Board of Healing Arts announced that it would investigate Tiller on similar allegations.
From the beginning of the trial, the prosecution seemed outgunned. Tiller sat with a half-dozen-member, high-powered criminal defense team at his side, including three lawyers-one a former U.S. attorney-and three aides. Kansas Assistant Attorney General Barry Disney sat alone at the prosecution table and occasionally exchanged a note with a nearby associate.
Tiller's team also had passion on its side. Disney was clearly committed to the case, but his courtroom demeanor was not marked by the same sharp tenacity as the defendant's lead counsel, Dan Monnat.
Over the course of two days, Disney presented the prosecution's case. Kansas law does not allow abortions on babies who could survive outside the womb, unless there is a risk of substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function of the mother, including her mental health. The law requires an independent physician with no legal or financial affiliation to the abortionist to provide a second opinion confirming the patient's eligibility. Disney argued that Dr. Kristin Neuhaus of Lawrence, Kan., whom Tiller came to rely on exclusively for the required second opinions, didn't fit that definition.
During opening statements and witness questioning, Disney established that Tiller recruited Neuhaus after state law was interpreted to require that the second opinion come from a Kansas-licensed physician. The two discussed the fee Neuhaus would charge for patient consultation and reached an agreement that Tiller would send her a steady stream of clients. While typically she accepted the $250 to $300 cash payments directly from the patients, Tiller's clinic would sometimes collect, hold, and distribute payments for Neuhaus, typically on occasions when Neuhaus conducted the consultation via telephone.
"By 2003," Disney said, "Dr. Neuhaus was a full-time consultant for the defendant. That is all she did. She had no other job, no other source of income." Neuhaus drove from Lawrence to Wichita once a week to conduct the consultations, using the clinic as her base of operations. She met with patients in clinic waiting rooms and on occasion used minor equipment or facilities around the clinic in the course of her work. To document the second opinion she provided to Tiller, Neuhaus used a standard form letter for all patient referrals. It was drafted by clinic staff, however, and edited by Tiller's attorney. Eventually the clinic provided the letter directly to Tiller's patients for them to present to Neuhaus for her signature after consultation.
The defense team pointed out that there was no salary, bonus, rent, lease, pension, or contract, and thus no affiliation. While acknowledging that the clinic held cash payments for Neuhaus, the defense noted that the money remained segregated from clinic funds. Neuhaus was never formally classified as an employee, never received a direct paycheck, W-2, or 1099 tax forms from the clinic.
This was apparently enough to convince the six-member jury that Tiller is not a criminal under Kansas law. Whether he can still be a doctor in Kansas will be up to the state's medical board.