MADELEINE BRAND, host:
In a Wichita courtroom today, prosecutors began laying out a violent narrative of the murder of George Tiller. He was a Kansas doctor who performed abortions. And we should warn you, parts of this story may be upsetting to some of you. Today was the first day of testimony in the trial of the man accused of shooting Dr. Tiller. Scott Roeder has admitted to killing George Tiller at his church. He says he did it to protect unborn children.
NPR's Kathy Lohr reports from Wichita.
KATHY LOHR: District Attorney Nola Foulston began the state's murder case, listing evidence she says jurors will hear about the warm, spring day when George Tiller was gunned down at his church last May. Foulston says several eyewitnesses will testify about what they saw and heard.
Ms. NOLA FOULSTON (District Attorney): And unexpectedly, a sound was heard, described by many as like the popping of a balloon.
LOHR: 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 says jurors will see photos and drawings, tapes and surveillance video proving the first degree murder charge.
Ms.�FOULSTON: You will see a pair of black tennis shoes, black tennis shoes that he was wearing that had red spattering on them. We will later learn that the spattering was the blood of George Tiller.
LOHR: Prosecutors never mentioned abortion or anything related to Tiller's clinic where abortions were performed. 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 a 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.
(Soundbite of 911 call)
Unidentified Woman #1: He's been shot.
Unidentified Woman #2: Ma'am, who was the suspect?
Unidentified Woman #1: I don't know.
Unidentified Woman #2: Do you know?
Unidentified Woman #1: I don't know.
Unidentified Woman #2: (unintelligible)
Unidentified Woman #1: (unintelligible)
Unidentified Woman #2: How old do you think he is?
Unidentified Woman #1: I don't know. I don't know. He turned around, he was half balding.
LOHR: 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 they say the defense should not be allowed to present evidence that could lead to a lesser, voluntary manslaughter charge.
Judge Warren Wilbert has already ruled that Roeder cannot use a justifiable homicide defense. And today he reiterated that he would not rule out any evidence before he sees what the defense wants to present.
Judge WARREN WILBERT: 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 preemptively deal with that matter at this time is premature, inappropriate and would invite error.
LOHR: Groups on both sides of the abortion issue are watching the case closely. And women's health clinics in the area have increased security. The trial is expected to take about two weeks.
Kathy Lohr, NPR News, Wichita.
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