January 30, 2010 in Nation/World

Man convicted of shooting Tiller could get life sentence

Government still investigating if Roeder had accomplices
Robin Abcarian Los Angeles Times
 
Associated Press photo

Defendant Scott Roeder leaves the courtroom after the closing arguments in his case on Friday in Wichita, Kan.
(Full-size photo)

WICHITA, Kan. – In a trial that never became the referendum on abortion that some abortion foes wanted, Scott Roeder, a 51-year-old airport shuttle driver, was convicted Friday of murdering George Tiller, one the nation’s few physicians who performed late-term abortions.

When he was slain in the vestibule of his church on May 31, Tiller became the eighth doctor since 1993 to be killed by anti-abortion extremists. In June, his family announced his clinic would close permanently.

The jury of seven men and five women deliberated for only 37 minutes before finding Roeder guilty of premeditated murder. He faces life in prison. Sentencing is set for March 9.

Roeder, who testified Thursday that he had methodically stalked and killed Tiller, 67, to stop him from performing abortions, reacted little to a verdict his attorneys said he expected. His face flushed slightly, but he did not move.

Whether Roeder shot Tiller at point-blank range in the forehead was never at issue; Roeder had admitted it to reporters, in court filings and finally in calm, measured tones to a jury on Thursday. “If someone did not stop him,” said Roeder, “those babies were going to continue to die.”

The tall, balding defendant said he felt relief after the killing. In the 3 1/2 hours after the murder, he drove toward Kansas City, he said, stopping to stash his gun in a rural dirt pile, change his shirt and eat a pizza.

Advocates for abortion rights praised the verdict.

“We now strongly urge the U.S. Department of Justice to follow through on its announcement to investigate Dr. Tiller’s murder to determine whether Roeder planned the shooting with anyone else,” said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights.

The Justice Department has confirmed it is investigating Roeder, who it alleges was caught tampering with the locks of an abortion clinic in Kansas City the day before he shot Tiller.

Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, urged abortion foes to tone down their “inflammatory rhetoric and tactics that inspire this kind of violent action from the most extreme factions of the anti-choice movement.”

Some here, however, had words of support for the defendant.

“I don’t condone what Scott Roeder did, but I cannot condemn the consistency of his logic,” said Randall Terry, a founder of the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue. “George Tiller killed 60,000 innocent human beings in barbaric ways, and Scott felt the way to protect more babies from a grisly death was to kill Tiller.”

Roeder hoped to claim the killing was justifiable homicide, based on his belief that abortion is murder. Sedgwick County Judge Warren Wilbert ruled that defense was not legal, but he left open the possibility that he would allow the jury to consider a voluntary manslaughter defense.

However, Wilbert ruled Thursday that the jury could only consider premeditated, first-degree murder.

That decision effectively ended Roeder’s defense, said his public defender, Mark Rudy. In a brief closing argument, Rudy weakly tried to compare Roeder to Martin Luther King Jr. and by inference Rosa Parks – people whose acts had righted social wrongs.

Roeder also was convicted on two counts of aggravated assault for threatening to shoot Keith Martin and Gary Hoepner as he fled Tiller’s Reformation Lutheran Church.


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