Abortion Doctor Killer Appeals To Kansas High Court

In 2009, Dr. George Tiller, one of the few doctors in the country who performed "late abortions," was killed at his church in Wichita. His killer, Scott Roeder, was convicted of first degree murder and is serving a life term. Now, his attorneys are appealing the case at the Kansas Supreme Court.

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Later this month, the Kansas Supreme Court will consider an appeal by the man convicted of murdering Dr. George Tiller. He was killed back in 2009 in his Wichita church. Tiller performed late term abortions and his killer, Scott Roeder, had been planning the murder for years.

As Aileen LeBlanc of KMUW reports, the crime has had a lasting impact on the city and on the abortion debate.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Somebody shot someone?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Yes, Dr. Tiller, Dr. George Tiller was just shot.

AILEEN LEBLANC, BYLINE: In May of 2009, George Tiller was serving as an usher at his church in Wichita. He had left the congregation to move into the foyer area when Scott Roeder followed him.

SCOTT ROEDER: I did what I thought what was needed to be done to protect the children. I shot him.

LEBLANC: At his trial, Scott Roeder said that he had considered driving his car into Tiller's or shooting him with a rifle. He says he chose the church because Tiller was more accessible there. Today, the South Wind Women's Health Center is fortress-like. Julie Burkhart opened this clinic last April, in the same building where Dr. Tiller's clinic operated.

JULIE BURKHART: You know, when Dr. Tiller was murdered, I felt like there was just this huge gaping hole in the world.

LEBLANC: Outside the clinic's entrance are a couple of right-to-life sidewalk counselors with their signs and literature. When I stop and talk to Brian Burkkemper, he misses his opportunity to flag down a woman's car as she drives through the gate. And he's not happy about that.

BRIAN BURKKEMPER: She could potentially be doing a life-altering - and make a decision in there that's going to affect the rest of her life.

LEBLANC: Burkhart's clinic has a solid concrete facade, a large metal gate and layers of security.

BURKHART: Cameras, metal detectors, guards, you know. And that's sad because what other medical facility really has to have all of these things?

LEBLANC: You're not wearing the bulletproof vest?

BURKHART: Not right now, no.

LEBLANC: Scott Roeder was convicted of first-degree murder by the jury and given an enhanced sentence by the judge under Kansas' Hard 50 law. But the judge denied his attorneys the chance for the jury to consider voluntary manslaughter. And now, because of a Supreme Court ruling, enhanced sentences like Roeder's can be appealed.

Nola Foulston, who prosecuted the case, thinks that the voluntary manslaughter appeal will likely fail. But she also thinks that the court may indeed consider reversing the Hard 50 sentence.

NOLA FOULSTON: And in that instance, we couldn't re-impanel the original jury. In other words, in order to have the same impact, the jury's going to have to hear the whole case again, even though it's just for the sentencing phase.

LEBLANC: Scott Stringfield runs an alternative clinic next door to Burkhart's, which tries to discourage abortions. He laments that pro-lifers like him are blamed for George Tiller's murder.

SCOTT STRINGFIELD: It's tragic at so many levels. One, because how it, in a sense, is blowback to us. We are criticized all the more because pro-lifers are all lumped into one big category.

LEBLANC: George Tiller's Murder still resonates throughout the country, and his killer's appeal is already stirring up passions on both sides of the abortion issue. For NPR News, I'm Aileen LeBlanc in Wichita.

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