Angel Dillard on Wednesday further confirmed her involvement with the groups Kansans for Life and Operation Rescue despite her legal defense’s efforts to distance her from the radical anti-choice movement during a direct examination held in U.S. District Court.
Dillard is standing trial in Wichita, Kansas, for sending a threatening letter to a local physician, Dr. Mila Means, in January 2011. The letter, now being considered by an eight-person jury, implied someone might place an explosive under Means’ car. Dillard wrote that thousands of people in the anti-choice movement would soon know where the doctor dwelled and that “we will not let this abomination continue without doing everything we can to stop it,” among other claims.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) in 2011 filed a lawsuit against Dillard, saying the letter violated the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act, which prohibits threatening abortion providers or interfering with access to abortion clinics. The DOJ, which is requesting a civil penalty of $15,000, $5,000 in damages paid to Means, and a court order to keep Dillard 250 feet away from Means, had appealed a ruling by a federal judge who dismissed its claim in 2013.
The U.S. District Court is now hearing the case after the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit ruled last year that a jury should decide whether Dillard’s letter constituted a “true threat.”
Dillard, during a Wednesday examination with her defense attorney, Theresa Sidebotham, said she wrote the letter to stop Means from providing abortion care and from replacing Dr. George Tiller, the abortion provider who was murdered in 2009 by Dillard’s associate, Scott Roeder.
Dillard said she wrote the letter after she learned about a Kansans for Life letter-writing campaign. She revealed she had a paid membership and had volunteered for the group by mailing out packages and sitting at its booth at state fair events.
She explained why she suggested Means might find a bomb under her car.
“It’s a prediction,” Dillard said. “Tiller said he had to look under his car before he went to work.”
Like the DOJ, Dillard’s defense during evidence proceedings referred to the notorious letter and various news articles, including interviews Means gave to the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times.
They also referenced the 2009 film What’s the Matter With Kansas?, a documentary based on journalist and historian Thomas Frank’s 2004 book about the conservative movement in the state. Dillard was a subject in the movie.
Dillard shared that she had protested outside an abortion clinic in the 1990s and had provided music for a conference organized by Operation Rescue. The anti-choice group had reportedly helped Roeder track court dates associated with Tiller, who had been pursued on false charges related to later abortion care. Tiller was eventually acquitted.
The testimony Dillard provided contrasted with the picture Sidebotham painted in an opening statement Tuesday. Dillard, Sidebotham said, had barely protested and didn’t know much about “the radical abortion groups.”
FBI Agent Sean Fitzgerald, who organized a security briefing with Means and local authorities to discuss safety concerns just days before Dillard sent the letter, testified as a witness on Wednesday.
Fitzgerald told jurors that he interviewed Dillard about her letter’s intent and discovered the FBI had researched her in connection to her prison ministry.
The agent, whose job focuses on preventing domestic terrorism, said he first took the letter to a U.S. District Attorney’s office, which declined to pursue a criminal case against Dillard. Fitzgerald said he closed his investigation on Dillard before he learned the DOJ would pursue a civil lawsuit against the Kansas activist.
Last month, just days before this week’s three-day trial, Dillard’s defense team made a last-minute attempt to have the case thrown out based on the argument that the FACE Act was unconstitutional, the Associated Press reported. Judge J. Thomas Marten, the case’s presiding judge, rejected the claim and ruled on what evidence jurors would hear in this week’s trial.
Dillard’s defense made another attempt to have the case dismissed Wednesday after Marten excused jurors for a brief recess. Sidebotham argued the DOJ team had failed to produce any evidence that Dillard’s letter posed a threat to Means. Marten didn’t agree and the case continued.
The DOJ began its cross-examination of Dillard and is expected to resume on Thursday.