Opening Statements Made In Abortion Slaying Trial

Scott Roeder i i

hide captionScott Roeder speaks with his lawyer Steve Osborne, at the start of his murder trial on Friday in Wichita, Kan. Roeder is charged with premeditated, first-degree murder in the shooting of George Tiller on May 31. Before opening statements began, Sedgwick County District Judge Warren Wilbert denied a defense motion to move the trial out of Wichita and a motion from prosecutors to not allow an involuntary manslaughter defense.

Travis Heying/AP
Scott Roeder

Scott Roeder speaks with his lawyer Steve Osborne, at the start of his murder trial on Friday in Wichita, Kan. Roeder is charged with premeditated, first-degree murder in the shooting of George Tiller on May 31. Before opening statements began, Sedgwick County District Judge Warren Wilbert denied a defense motion to move the trial out of Wichita and a motion from prosecutors to not allow an involuntary manslaughter defense.

Travis Heying/AP

Prosecutors gave their opening statements Friday in the murder trial of Scott Roeder, the man accused of shooting a Kansas doctor who performed abortions. But the defense declined to give its opening remarks.

Roeder has admitted killing George Tiller at his church — but says he did it to protect unborn children.

Prosecutors Object To Roeder's Plan

Roeder wants to present evidence on his feelings about abortion. But prosecutors have continued to object and on Friday, they began making their case to the jury.

District Attorney Nola Foulston began the state's murder case by listing evidence she says jurors will hear about the warm, spring day when George Tiller was gunned down at his church last May.

Foulston said several eyewitnesses will testify about what they saw and heard.

"And unexpectedly, a sound was heard," Foulston said, "described by many as the popping of a balloon."

After Tiller fell to the floor, Foulston says two ushers ran after the suspect. Roeder is also charged with threatening them before fleeing in his Ford Taurus. Church members got the car's license plate, which eventually led police to Roeder. Foulston said jurors will see photos, drawings, tapes and surveillance video that prove the first-degree murder charge.

"You will see a pair of black tennis shoes," Foulston said. "Black tennis shoes that he was wearing that had red spattering on them. You will later learn that the spattering was the blood of George Tiller."

Prosecutors never mentioned abortion or anything related to Tiller's clinic where abortions were performed.

Defense Keeps Quiet

The defense declined to offer an opening statement. Public defenders can reserve the time to talk to the jury when they begin presenting their case. Roeder doesn't have to put on any evidence at all.

He sat calmly in the courtroom wearing a dark jacket and light blue shirt — at times scribbling notes on a legal pad. Some legal experts say the defense really had nothing to gain — and didn't want to tip their hand about what kind of evidence they may offer.

Prosecutors wasted no time, opening their case with the 911 call made moments after the shooting.

Prosecutors also showed a gruesome photo of Tiller lying on his side in the church entryway. Blood covered his face and a bloody pool surrounded his head.

Prosecutors say this is a clear-cut case of premeditated murder and that the defense should not be allowed to present evidence that could lead to a lesser, voluntary manslaughter charge.

Women's Health Clinics Increase Security

Judge Warren Wilbert has already ruled that Roeder cannot use a justifiable homicide defense, and on Friday he reiterated that he would not rule any evidence out before he sees what the defense wants to present.

"As the gatekeeper of the evidence, it's my responsibility at the end of trial to determine if there's sufficient evidence to instruct the jury on any lesser included offense of voluntary manslaughter, but to pre-emptively deal with that matter at this time is premature, inappropriate and would invite error," Wilbert said.

Groups on both sides of the abortion issue are watching the case closely. Women's health clinics in the area have increased security. The trial is expected to take about two weeks.

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