MADELEINE BRAND, Host:
Thirty-seven minutes, that's how long it took a Kansas jury to find Scott Roeder guilty of first-degree murder and aggravated assault. In May, Roeder shot and killed Dr. George Tiller, an abortion provider, while Tiller was at church.
NPR's Kathy Lohr has been in Wichita for the trial, and she sent us this report.
KATHY LOHR: Roeder testified he believed abortion was murder and said he needed to stop it by killing Tiller, one of the few doctors who provided abortions later in pregnancy. Roeder did not deny any of the facts surrounding the May 31st shooting. The defense wanted the jury to consider a voluntary manslaughter charge, which carries a much lighter sentence than murder, but the judge ruled against that. Kim Parker is one of the prosecutors.
BRAND: Hopefully it sends a clear message that this type of conduct is clearly not justified under the law. There is no place for this. There are no medals to be given for those who violate the rules.
LOHR: Roeder's defense attorney, Mark Rudy, was clearly dejected after the verdict. He said Roeder made so many admissions that there was no hope without the voluntary manslaughter defense.
BRAND: The jury was not presented with any options, obviously. It was he's either guilty of first-degree murder or they'd have to let him go. And, obviously, we knew that they weren't going to let him go. And we were not allowed to argue lessers. We weren't allowed to argue other things that had been ruled out. So, you know, we were left with not much to argue, frankly.
LOHR: Some anti-abortion activists who attended the trial, including David Leach from Iowa and Michael Bray from Ohio, both signed a justifiable homicide petition, arguing Roeder should be able to use that defense. Randall Terry, who started Operation Rescue, was also in court. And he said he didn't think justice was served, that the jury didn't get to consider Roeder's motive: to prevent abortion.
BRAND: And it showed to me that they never got a chance to get inside of Scott Roeder's head. The babies who died at Tiller's hand, they deserved their day in court and it should've been this trial, and it wasn't.
LOHR: But for abortion rights groups, the guilty verdict is a big victory. Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri says Roeder's conviction sends a clear message that domestic terrorists will be held accountable in Kansas and elsewhere. Kathy Spillar is with the Feminist Majority Foundation.
BRAND: The evidence is overwhelming. I don't see how the jury could've arrived at any other decision. And I appreciate that, you know, ordinary citizens can sit through this kind of a trial and come to a conclusion of guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, in fact, beyond any doubt.
LOHR: Spillar says abortion rights groups want the Justice Department to file federal charges against Roeder for Tiller's murder. And they're asking federal officials to further investigate anti-abortion extremists, including those who spent time with Roeder.
In a statement, the family of George Tiller said they hope he will be remembered for his service to women and for the help he provided to those who needed it.
Roeder's first-degree murder conviction carries a sentence of life in prison with the possibility of parole after 25 years. Sentencing is set for March 9th.
Kathy Lohr, NPR News, Wichita.
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