Mike Hutmacher/AP Photo/The Wichita Eagle
Scott Roeder, shown during his final pretrial motions earlier this month, is charged with the first-degree murder of Wichita doctor George Tiller.
Scott Roeder, shown during his final pretrial motions earlier this month, is charged with the first-degree murder of Wichita doctor George Tiller. Mike Hutmacher/AP Photo/The Wichita Eagle
The judge in the trial of a man accused of killing a Kansas abortion provider in May dealt a blow to the defense when he ruled that the jury will not be able to consider second-degree murder or voluntary manslaughter.
Scott Roeder admitted in a Wichita court Thursday that he killed Dr. George Tiller. He is charged with first-degree murder.
Judge Warren Wilbert ruled that for second-degree murder or voluntary manslaughter charges to apply, there must have been an imminent threat of an illegal act; he said neither of those circumstances was present when Roeder shot Tiller at the doctor's church on May 31.
"There is no imminence of danger on a Sunday morning in the back of a church, let alone any unlawful conduct, given that what Dr. Tiller did at his clinic the following day, Monday through Friday, is lawful in the state of Kansas," Wilbert said.
Those charges would have carried a much lighter sentence than premeditated murder. The judge had ruled earlier that Roeder could not use a justifiable homicide or necessity defense. And late Thursday he said that to allow voluntary manslaughter would be to reinsert the necessity defense under the guise of manslaughter.
Admits Killing Doctor
Roeder began his testimony by saying he did not deny any evidence so far presented that related to the shooting of Tiller. Defense attorney Mark Rudy asked Roeder questions about whether he bought the .22-caliber handgun used in the shooting, whether he spent the night at a Wichita hotel and whether he shot Tiller at the church. Roeder answered "yes" to each question.
"Again, with very, very limited exceptions, is it fair to say that you don't dispute or disagree with evidence presented from the state and their evidence and witnesses?" Rudy asked.
"I do not," Roeder replied.
Roeder testified that he became a Christian in 1992. He said he believes abortion is murder and that he began protesting outside clinics, including Tiller's, in Wichita. His defense attorneys painted a picture of a man increasingly upset about abortion and asked him to explain what he knew about it. Roeder began to list types of abortion, but was abruptly stopped by objections from the prosecution. The judge then told him that he couldn't discuss the specifics of medical procedures because it was outside the scope of what's relevant.
In the courtroom, Roeder appeared calm and measured in his responses, much of the time answering simply "yes" or "no." Tiller's family and anti-abortion activists listened intently.
Prosecutors continued to object, saying Roeder's testimony was outside the scope of the trial and that the judge had already ruled that Roeder would not be able to present this kind of evidence.
Court 'Not A Forum ... Or A Debate On Abortion'
Earlier Thursday, the judge ruled against allowing testimony from former Kansas Attorney General Phil Kline, who brought charges against Tiller for allegedly violating the state law regarding late-term abortions; the case was dismissed by the Sedgwick County district attorney, the same woman who is prosecuting this case. Wilbert said allowing Kline to testify would be inappropriate.
"It's exactly what this court seeks to avoid," Wilbert said. "I would not allow this courtroom to turn into a forum or referendum or a debate on abortion."
Roeder's defense attorneys said he was counting on state officials and laws to stop Tiller. When that didn't happen, they said, Roeder became frustrated and took matters into his own hands. Roeder was the only witness for the defense. Closing arguments begin Friday.