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President’s Comments Contradict Complaint in Federal Judge’s Slaying

Posted Jan 14, 2011 8:25 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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A Columbia law professor isn’t concerned about recent comments by President Obama that contradict the criminal complaint filed against the suspect in the shooting death of U.S. District Judge John Roll.

Federal charges against suspect Jared Lee Loughner are based on a 1971 law that makes it a crime to kill federal employees who are performing their official duties, the New York Times reports. According to news reports, Roll had stopped by a meet-and-greet event staged by U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords to thank her for sending a letter intended to help declare a judicial emergency in his district.

During his speech at a Tucson memorial service, Obama had a different version of events, the Times says. Roll “was on his way back from attending Mass, as he did every day, when he decided to stop by and say ‘Hi’ to his representative,” Obama said. Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik had cited the same reason for Roll’s visit in a press conference on the day of the shootings.

The Times wonders whether Obama’s statements will complicate the federal case against Loughner. Columbia law professor John Coffee Jr. doesn’t think so. “I am not certain that the president’s statement is even admissible,” he told the Times. Even if the defense manages to introduce the comment, “it is not irrefutable evidence, and it does not estop the government.”

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