A cross-examination by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) in U.S. District Court on Thursday highlighted inconsistencies among testimony, a court deposition, and arguments from anti-abortion activist Angel Dillard and her defense team.
The proceedings in Wichita were part of a case that began in 2011 after the DOJ filed a civil lawsuit against Dillard for sending an threatening letter to a local physician, Dr. Mila Means.
Dillard told Means in that letter that she might find an explosive under her car and that members of the anti-abortion movement would do everything they could to stop her from providing abortion care.
At the time, Means had been training to become an abortion provider. She would have been the first doctor to offer the abortion care in Wichita after Dillard’s associate, Scott Roeder, murdered abortion provider Dr. George Tiller in 2009.
The court expected a jury verdict following closing statements on Thursday, but members the eight-person jury said they needed more time to deliberate. Dillard will pay about $20,000 in total if the jury rules in the DOJ’s favor.
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The government’s lawsuit is centered on the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act, a federal law passed in 1994 to prevent threats against abortion providers or interference with access to abortion clinics. Dillard’s defense has argued that the letter is protected under the First Amendment.
In the cross-examination, which began late Wednesday and was led by attorney and DOJ Special Litigation Section Deputy Chief Julie Abbate, Dillard revealed to jurors that she first visited Roeder independently and not as part of a church ministry, as her defense implied earlier this week.
Donald McKinney, Dillard’s former defense attorney, had relied on the activist’s “ministerial” or “priest-penitent” privileges to limit information about her communications with Roeder from becoming public in 2013. Her defense took similar actions in court this week.
Dillard provided contradictory information about an oft-quoted 2009 interview she had with Associated Press reporter Roxana Hegeman. Dillard said in that interview that Roeder, “with one move,” had accomplished “what we had not been able to do.”
“So he followed his convictions and I admire that,” Dillard said.
Although Dillard said Thursday that the quotation was taken out of context, she said in her sworn out-of-court testimony that she believed Hegeman quoted her accurately.
Dillard in the cross-examination acknowledged that one could receive a letter from someone who provides their name and address and does not explicitly state, “I will harm you,” and still feel threatened.
The acknowledgement emerged days after Dillard’s legal defense team repeatedly noted that Dillard provided her name and address on the letter to Means to argue the absence of a “true threat.”
Abbate questioned Dillard about a protective court order she filed after receiving a disconcerting letter from a Kansan inmate. In stating her reasons for the order, Dillard reportedly told authorities issuing the protective order that her family was afraid because they didn’t know what the sender looked like.
Dillard on Thursday acknowledged that the sender made references to her sister’s home and other personal information that frightened her.
Abbate did not name the inmate or provide further details to jurors, but in 2013, several news outlets, including the Associated Press and the Wichita Eagle, acknowledged a conflict between Dillard and the letter writer, Robert Campbell.
Campbell, who had been lodged in Sedgwick County Jail at the time, reportedly tried to blackmail Dillard by telling authorities she asked him to firebomb Means’ house in 2012. He told authorities he had backed out of the plot and feared Dillard would act out of revenge.
Dillard said Thursday that she barely remembered the incident, when first questioned about the letter and the court order she filed.
“That was quite a few years ago,” Dillard said.
Dillard’s husband, who is a local emergency room physician, also took the stand on Thursday. Dr. Robert Dillard told his wife’s defense attorney, Theresa Sidebotham, that he did not participate in the anti-abortion movement.
Dillard’s defense team on Thursday made another attempt to have Judge J. Thomas Marten close the case after he dismissed the jury for a break, but Marten declined.
The jury will reconvene Friday morning.