Magazine article The Christian Century

Tiller's Murderer Faces Life in Jail

Magazine article The Christian Century

Tiller's Murderer Faces Life in Jail

Article excerpt

A man who by his own testimony sought chances to kill Dr. George Tiller, one of the few U.S. physicians who perform late-term abortions, was quickly convicted of murder in a Kansas trial. The outcome was welcomed by prochoice groups and by most established pro-life groups.

Scott Roeder, 51, an airport shuttle driver from Kansas City, was convicted of first-degree murder January 29 by a Wichita jury after only 37 minutes of deliberation. He faces life in prison. Sentencing is set for March 9.

Members of the Reformation Lutheran Church, affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, testified that they had seen Roeder at the large brick church several times prior to May 31 when he shot Tiller point-blank in the head. On that Sunday, Tiller was serving as an usher and standing in the foyer as his wife was preparing to sing with the choir.

In his testimony January 28, Roeder told the jury that his only chance to kill Tiller and to stop what he considered the killing of more babies was at the church. Tiller's clinic was bombed in 1986 and a shooting in 1993 left the doctor wounded in both arms. As a result, Tiller lived behind high walls, wore a bulletproof vest and traveled in a custom armored car, often with a bodyguard.

"It was the only window of opportunity that I saw where he could be stopped," Roeder testified.

After defense lawyers finished their case, Sedgwick County District Judge Warren Wilbert ruled that he would not allow the jury to consider a charge of voluntary manslaughter, which under state law would require that Roeder be judged to have acted in honest though unreasonable belief he was stopping imminent, unlawful harm.

"There's no imminence of danger on a Sunday morning in the back of a church, let alone unlawful conduct," Wilbert said. "In the state of Kansas, abortions are legal."

In a post-verdict statement, the doctor's widow, Jeanne, and the Tiller family expressed hope that "George can be remembered for his legacy of service to women, the help he provided for those who needed it."

Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, implored abortion opponents to temper their "inflammatory rhetoric and tactics that inspire this kind of violent action from the most extreme factions of the anti-choice movement. …

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