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In a Wichita court today, Scott Roeder admitted killing doctor and abortion provider George Tiller. Roeder testified that he believes abortion is murder and that he wanted to stop Tiller.
At question now is whether jurors will be allowed to consider a sentence of voluntary manslaughter for Roeder instead of first-degree murder.
NPR's Kathy Lohr was in the courtroom and she has this report.
KATHY LOHR: Roeder began his testimony saying he did not deny any evidence the prosecution has put on: the facts related to the shooting of Tiller.
Defense attorney Mark Rudy asked Roeder a series questions about whether he bought the .22-caliber handgun used in the shooting, whether he spent the night at a Wichita hotel, and finally whether he shot Tiller at his church on May 31. Roeder answered yes to each question.
Mr.�MARK RUDY (Attorney): Again, is it fair to say, with very, very limited exceptions, you don't dispute or disagree with any of the evidence presented from the state through their witnesses and exhibits?
Mr.�SCOTT ROEDER: I do not.
LOHR: Roeder testified that he became a Christian in 1992 and began learning more about abortion. He says he believes abortion is murder and that he began protesting outside clinics, including Tiller's in Wichita.
His defense attorneys painted a picture of Roeder as a man increasingly upset about abortion and asked him to explain what he knew about it. Roeder began a list of four or five types of abortion but was abruptly stopped by objections from the prosecution.
Mr.�ROEDER: Partial-birth abortion, forceps, where they go in and tear the baby limit from limb.
Unidentified Woman: Objection, your honor.
The Honorable WARREN WILBERT: And the jury is admonished to disregard that answer. Mr.�Roeder, I'm going to tell you right now you cannot discuss specifics of medical procedures.
The Hon. WILBERT: That's outside the scope of what's relevant material, and you certainly don't have the medical background to testify to those.
LOHR: In the courtroom, Roeder appeared calm and measured in his responses, much of time answering yes and no.
Prosecutors continue to object, saying Roeder's testimony was outside the scope of the trial and that the judge had already ruled Roeder would not be able to present this kind of evidence.
Earlier today, the judge ruled against allowing testimony from former Kansas Attorney General Phil Kline. Kline brought charges against Tiller for allegedly violating the state law regarding late abortions, but the case was dismissed by the Sedgwick County district attorney, the same woman who is prosecuting this case. Judge Warren Wilbert said allowing Kline to testify would be inappropriate.
The Hon. WILBERT: It's exactly what this court seeks to avoid, which I said I would not allow, and that I would not allow this courtroom to turn into a forum or referendum or a debate on abortion.
LOHR: Roeder pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder charges. His defense attorneys say he was counting on state officials and laws to stop Tiller. And when that didn't happen, they say Roeder became frustrated and took matters into his own hands.
The defense is trying to make a case for voluntary manslaughter. In Kansas, that's defined as the honest but unreasonable belief that circumstances existed which justified deadly force. That would carry a much lighter sentence than premeditated murder.
The judge has continually said he has not yet decided whether he will give the jury an instruction that would allow for a voluntary manslaughter conviction. More is required to prove manslaughter, including that there was imminent danger and that the actions of the person who was killed were illegal. In this case, prosecutors say performing abortions in Kansas is legal, and they say there was no imminent danger to Roeder. Kathy Lohr, NPR News, Wichita.
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