Killer of Abortion Provider To Be Sentenced

Scott Roeder i i

Scott Roeder will be sentenced Thursday for the murder of Dr. George Tiller, who performed abortions in Wichita, Kan. Wichita Police Department via Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Wichita Police Department via Getty Images
Scott Roeder

Scott Roeder will be sentenced Thursday for the murder of Dr. George Tiller, who performed abortions in Wichita, Kan.

Wichita Police Department via Getty Images

Scott Roeder, who was convicted of first-degree murder in the shooting of a Kansas abortion provider, will be sentenced Thursday in Wichita.

Last May, Roeder gunned down George Tiller, one of the few American doctors who performed abortions later in pregnancy. Roeder now faces a life sentence without the possibility of parole for 50 years.

'A Law-Abiding Citizen'?

During the trial, an unapologetic Roeder testified that he watched Tiller and waited for an opportunity. He tracked the doctor at his office, at his home in a gated community and finally at Reformation Lutheran Church, where he shot Tiller in the head.

In a video posted on YouTube, Roeder says he was asked if he had any regrets about shooting Tiller. "I guess I said no," he says in the video. "I didn't have any regrets except for maybe the fact that if the law would have done what it was supposed to do and stopped Mr. Tiller, it would not have had to come to this conclusion."

Roeder said he needed to protect unborn children and called Tiller "a hit man." Anti-abortion activist David Leach from Iowa posted Roeder's remarks on the Internet. "Scott Roeder, at heart, is a law-abiding citizen," says Leach.

Leach is planning to testify as a character witness during sentencing.

"Outside this one action he has a clean record," Leach says. "He's not a fellow who curses, drinks, smokes, does any of the things which you associate with that. He's a churchgoer, and he would like to be a law-abiding citizen."

Leach also believes abortion is murder. He says the judge should have given jury members instructions that would have allowed them to consider a lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter. Some who oppose abortion say they are counting on an appeal and hope to get assistance from anti-abortion attorneys.

Setting A Precedent

At the trial, prosecutors tried to keep the abortion issue out of the case. They called the act premeditated murder. Citing aggravating factors, prosecutors are now seeking a stiffer sentence — life without parole for 50 years instead of 25 years. Some watching the case say even character witnesses probably won't help Roeder avoid a stiffer sentence.

"The judge is going to have to weigh whatever evidence he brings against the aggravating factors," says Michael Kaye, a law professor at Washburn University in Topeka, Kan. "Among those factors is that prior stalking of the victim. And his testimony clearly established that he had stalked the victim."

Abortion-rights advocates say a harsh sentence in this case is key to preventing violence against abortion providers in the future.

"This was, in many ways, a hate crime," says Vicki Saporta, president of the National Abortion Federation. "And those who are contemplating committing a similar crime need to understand that they will not get away with it and that they will spend the rest of their lives in prison."

Those who support abortion rights say no one can replace George Tiller. But they say a number of doctors have started performing later abortions since the Kansas clinic closed. They don't want to say how many or where they're located, but at least one doctor in New Mexico posted on his Web site that he is offering abortions in response to Tiller's murder.

Members of Tiller's family did not say whether they will testify at Thursday's hearing.

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