Abortion Provider's Killer To Spend Life In Prison Scott Roeder, 52, had confessed to killing Kansas Dr. George Tiller, one of the few U.S. doctors who performed late abortions. At Roeder's sentencing Thursday, the judge had to decide whether he could be eligible for parole in 25 years or 50. He chose the latter, saying evidence showed Roeder stalked Tiller before killing him.
NPR logo Abortion Provider's Killer To Spend Life In Prison


Abortion Provider's Killer To Spend Life In Prison

Scott Roeder sits in a Sedgwick County District courtroom in Wichita, Kan., on Thursday, at his sentencing hearing. Roeder was convicted of murdering Dr. George Tiller, an abortion provider. Jeff Tuttle/AP hide caption

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Jeff Tuttle/AP

Scott Roeder sits in a Sedgwick County District courtroom in Wichita, Kan., on Thursday, at his sentencing hearing. Roeder was convicted of murdering Dr. George Tiller, an abortion provider.

Jeff Tuttle/AP

A judge has sentenced an anti-abortion zealot convicted of murdering a prominent Kansas abortion provider to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 50 years.

Scott Roeder, 52, faced a mandatory life prison term for shooting Dr. George Tiller in the back of Tiller's Wichita church last May.

Sedgwick County District Judge Warren Wilbert could have made Roeder eligible for parole after 25 or 50 years. He gave him the harsher sentence because he said the evidence showed Roeder stalked Tiller before killing him.

Before he was sentenced, Roeder testified that he killed Tiller because he felt doing so would protect unborn children. He accused the judge of "duplicity" and said his trial was a miscarriage of justice because he wasn't allowed to present testimony about the evils of abortion. He said the deaths of a few providers like Tiller must be weighed against the millions of abortions that have been performed.

"I stopped him so he could not dismember another innocent baby," Roeder said. "Wichita is a far safer place for unborn babies without George Tiller."

Earlier Thursday, an attorney for Tiller's family, Lee Thompson, asked Wilbert to give Roeder the harshest sentence possible, saying anything less would encourage other anti-abortion fanatics to follow in Roeder's footsteps.

"It will happen again and again," Thompson said. "This is domestic terrorism. This act will be repeated by this person if he ever sees the light of day again."

Roeder was barred from describing abortion procedures during the testimony portion of his trial, and prosecutors were careful not to turn the trial into a referendum on abortion.

On Thursday, Roeder told the court that Tiller "dismembered living children with the nod of approval from the state."

He said God's judgment against the U.S. will "sweep over this land like a prairie wind."

"He will avenge every drop of innocent blood," Roeder said.

Earlier during his hearing, Roeder interrupted a prosecutor questioning a Topeka psychologist about his motivations for killing Tiller by shouting he did it "to protect unborn babies."

The judge warned Roeder that if he interrupted again, he'd be removed from the courtroom until he was allowed to make a statement.

The first of several character witnesses to testify on Roeder's behalf said he had prayed with him since the 1990s and had not believed the defendant to be a dangerous individual, according to the Wichita Eagle.

"Not one time did I hear him speak of violence to anyone," said Eugene Frye, who quoted biblical Scripture in an effort to explain Roeder's anti-abortion beliefs.

Frye said that the first time he saw Roeder agitated was when he learned that a jury had found Tiller not guilty of misdemeanor charges in the months before he was killed. Frye asked the judge to give Roeder "the lesser sentence."

The Eagle reported that another witness, Katherine Coons, insisted that Roeder's act was "not a hate crime," saying, "He just had a heart for babies."

The judge earlier denied a motion for a new trial and rejected a challenge by the defense to a Kansas law that would allow Roeder to be sentenced to a "Hard 50," or a life sentence with the possibility of parole in 50 years. The judge also indicated that the evidence showed that Roeder stalked Tiller before killing him, which could qualify him for the harsher of the two sentences.

Public defender Mark Rudy argued there were no aggravating factors to warrant that punishment.

But District Attorney Nola Foulston asked for the maximum sentence, one that would effectively keep Roeder behind bars for the rest of his life.

"This person presents a clear and present danger," she said.

Prosecutors seeking the harsher sentence must show an aggravating circumstance, such as whether Roeder stalked his victim before killing him. Roeder testified in January that he had previously taken a gun into the doctor's church and had also checked out the gated subdivision where Tiller lived and the clinic where he practiced.

Thompson said the slain doctor had believed strongly in women's rights.

"The impact of his death on women throughout the world is like an earthquake," Thompson told the court. "They ask, 'Where can I go? What will I do?' I have to say, 'I'm sorry, I can't tell you.' That's the impact of this crime."

Thompson emphasized that Roeder's deeply held religious beliefs could not mitigate the crime of murder. He said the circumstances were made worse by the fact that Roeder had no remorse for his crime and instead "brags about this murder."

In the months since Tiller's death, his clinic has been closed and Kansas has been left with no facility where women can receive an abortion late in their pregnancy. The state has three clinics — all located in or near the Kansas City area — that offer limited abortion services for women up to their 21st week of pregnancy.

One of Tiller's contemporaries had vowed to fill the gap, but that hasn't materialized. Kansas lawmakers are moving to enact tough new rules to dissuade other doctors from taking Tiller's place.