Scott Roeder, in his testimony Thursday, decided as far back as 1993 that Dr. George
Tiller needed to die. He thought of several different ways
to do it. He could not do it outside the clinic. He drove by the neighborhood
where Dr. Tiller lived but could not get in. He could not do it at the Sedgwick
County Courthouse while Dr. Tiller was on trial. In August 2008, he went into
Reformation Lutheran Church with a Smith and Wesson 9 millimeter gun in a
shoulder holster under his suit coat but did not see Dr. Tiller in order to
kill him. He pawned his 9 mm and an SKS Chinese assault rifle. On May 18th,
2009, he bought a Taurus P-22 caliber handgun, one that would fit in his pocket;
he picked it up on May 23rd, 2009, and then drove to Wichita to kill Dr. Tiller
in church on Sunday, May 24th. He did not see Dr. Tiller so drove back home to
Kansas City, Missouri. On May 29th, he spent some time with his son, going to
dinner and a movie. On May 30th, he bought more ammunition then drove to
Topeka. He visited his childhood neighborhood, wondering if a childhood
friend’s mother still lived there. He drove out to his brother’s, took target
practice, and when his gun stopped working right, took it in to get fixed and
bought more ammunition. He then drove towards Wichita, stopping to shoot on
occasion on his way. He carried the gun in with him on May 30th as he attended
Saturday night service. He did not see Dr. Tiller so he left, checked into a
nearby hotel, watched TV, ate dinner, prepared for the next day, and went to
bed. On Sunday morning, he checked out, drove to the church, backed into a
parking spot, went inside the church, and sat down, having not yet seen Dr.
Tiller. After service started, he saw Dr. Tiller leave the sanctuary and
followed. A few seconds later, he put the gun against Dr. Tiller’s head and
pulled the trigger. He ran out of the church. Realizing he was being followed,
he told Gary Hoepner to stop following, he had a gun. He got to his car, and as
he started to drive away, Keith Martin stepped in front of it. He told Martin
to move, and when Martin did not, repeated his instruction and said he had a
gun. Martin threw a cup of coffee into the car. Roeder drove out of Wichita and
stopped in "Valley View" for lunch and gas. He continued until he
reached Burlington where he changed out of the coffee-stained white shirt and
into a denim shirt. He wrapped the loaded gun in cloth, with the intention of
retrieving it someday, and buried it in a pile of dirt. He then continued back
home to Kansas City, Missouri. At some point, he told his attorneys where he
had hidden the gun, but when they returned, the pile of dirt – along with the
loaded gun used to kill Dr. Tiller and threaten both Hoepner and Martin – was
After testimony Wednesday, the prosecution refused to
rest until such time as the defense proffered – offered testimony outside the
presence of the jury – their witnesses. After some arguments regarding one of
the witnesses, former Kansas Attorney General Phil Kline came in to deliver
what the defense expected him to testify to. After wandering off-topic a couple
of times, venturing into inappropriate testimony regarding legal investigations
that are protected and flat out saying Dr. Tiller performed illegal abortions –
charges which were dismissed and others for which Dr. Tiller was acquitted –
Kline was asked to leave while the court discussed whether he would be allowed
to testify. Judge Warren Wilbert ruled he had nothing to offer that would be
within the scope of a murder trial and would not help Roeder’s defense, saying
"As I sat here and listened to Phil Kline testify, … It’s exactly what
this court seeks to avoid." With no more witnesses for the defense to
proffer, the state rested at 11:07 am.
Public Defender Steve Osburn delivered his opening
statement. Roeder, he said, felt Dr. Tiller "broke the spirit of the
law" when he performed late abortions for reasons of mental health of the
woman. A preview of the rest of the day, Osburn outlined Roeder’s beliefs and
actions, saying Scott Roeder fired one shot into Dr. Tiller. He also threatened
both Hoepner and Martin before heading out of town.
The defense called one witness: Scott P. Roeder. Before
the jury came in, Roeder was asked for the record if he waived his right
against self-incrimination as guaranteed under the Fifth Amendment. He was told
he would have to answer all questions asked of him and could not confer with
his attorneys. He agreed and took the stand. After learning he was born in
Denver, Colorado, he was asked if he had sat through the whole trial and if he
did not dispute the evidence with "very, very few exceptions." Roeder
said this is true.
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Roeder was not really religious as a child and did not
consider himself Christian. In 1992, while watching The 700 Club, Roeder decided to give himself over to Jesus Christ.
He describes himself as "born-again." While he had always thought
abortion was wrong, he did not become interested in it until around that time.
In 1993, Rachelle "Shelley" Shannon shot Dr. Tiller. Around this
time, Roeder determined the only way to stop abortion–"the killing of
children" as he put it–was to kill Dr. Tiller. He never focused on any
other abortion provider. He visited Shannon in prison and began to protest at a
clinic in the Kansas City area, offering "sidewalk counseling". He
did not see himself as protesting but that some people held signs and did
protest alongside the counseling. During this time, he met like-minded people
who also believed in murdering providers, though he did not discuss it with
just anyone outside the clinic. He said no one tried to talk him out of
killing, though he did not tell anyone he planned on killing Dr. Tiller.
Over the years, he thought of many different ways to kill
Dr. Tiller including chopping his hands off with a sword. He decided this would
not put an end to abortion as Dr. Tiller could still teach others. He also
thought about assassinating Dr. Tiller with a sniper rifle, but this plan had
problems. He thought about killing Dr. Tiller at his home, but his home was
inside a gated community and he could not get in. He felt the only place Dr.
Tiller was vulnerable, his only "window of opportunity," was to kill
Dr. Tiller at church where he would not be in his armored car, be without a
bulletproof vest, and without a bodyguard.
In 2000, he began traveling to Wichita to protest outside
Women’s Health Care Services. He also protested outside Reformation Lutheran
Church a couple of times. In 2002, he parked his car by St. George’s Orthodox
Cathedral, right next to Reformation Lutheran, and walked over to the church. A
law enforcement officer stopped him and asked what he was doing there. Roeder
said he was moving to Wichita and was looking for a new church. When asked if
he knew Dr. Tiller went there, he said he did not know whom Dr. Tiller was.
Roeder did not return to Reformation Lutheran for a few years. In August of
2008, he began visiting the church again. He caused no ruckus and no
disruptions. He wanted the people in the church to trust him, to feel
comfortable with him, so he could kill Dr. Tiller there. As Gary Hoepner
testified, Roeder succeeded in this mission. He carried a gun in with him on
August 24, 2008; May 24, 2009; May 30, 2009; and May 31, 2009. He feels no
regret for killing Dr. Tiller. And after he did, he simply tried to go home, at
one point even thinking he would go to work the next day.
As Roeder explained his position on abortion, he said his
religious beliefs and opinions on abortion "go hand-in-hand." From
conception forward, he explained, "It is not man’s job to take life,"
only God’s, except for self-defense or the defense of others. He stated
uncertainty that abortion is acceptable to save a woman’s life. Other medical
exceptions are not acceptable, he said, only life, and certainly not mental
illness. Abortion is not acceptable to him in the case of incest and rape
because, "two wrongs don’t make a right."
At about 4:05 pm, Roeder finished testifying about his
murder of Dr. George Tiller and aggravated assaults of Gary Hoepner and Keith
Martin, and the defense rested. The jury is excused. We wait as the court, the
state, and the defense prepare for motions regarding jury instructions. During
this time, around 5:00, Mark Rudy informs the press that, shortly before Roeder
testified, they informed police the location of the gun. At that time,
authorities began a search in Burlington, KS.
As Wilbert introduced his draft proposal of the jury
instructions and voluntary manslaughter was not among them, the few pro-choice
activists left in the courtroom breathed a sigh of relief, one expressing even
more joy. The defense asked for the instruction, and arguments commenced. After
some arguments, Wilbert explained in detail – largely repeating previous
statements and case law – why he was denying the request. Most of the argument
revolved around imminence – that Roeder believed Dr. Tiller was an imminent
threat – though Wilbert stated he failed to prove this, even by his own
admission by stating he killed Dr. Tiller 22 hours before he would perform
another abortion. Wilbert quoted from the case that rather defines voluntary
manslaughter in Kansas, and in that ruling, 2 hours was not considered
"imminent." Wilbert then continued: justified use of deadly force
requires that the imminent threat be unlawful. And no matter what people
believe, abortion is legal and Roeder provided no information that Dr. Tiller
was breaking the law. He re-emphasized another case – one that dealt with
protesting Dr. Tiller many years before – that stated allowing any form of the
necessity defense would "not only lead to chaos but would be tantamount to
The jury will return Friday morning to receive their
instructions – to convict or not on one count of first-degree premeditated
murder and two counts of aggravated assault – and hear closing arguments. We
may know as soon as Friday evening their verdict.
As we left the courthouse Thursday night, it began to
snow. It seemed as if the sky felt the cold
inside the courtroom coming from Scott Roeder and opened up on Wichita.