Scott Roeder, the man who murdered the 67-year-old 'abortion doctor' George Tiller in May last year, has been convicted. He faces a minimum sentence of life imprisonment with the possibility of parole after 25 years in prison when he is sentenced March 9.
The conviction came on the sixth day of a trial in Wichita county, Kansas. The trial had attracted national attention and drew activists from both sides of the abortion issue. The seven-man, five-woman jury also convicted Roeder of two counts of aggravated assault for threatening two men who chased him as he fled Tiller's church after the shooting.
During the trial, Sedgwick County District Judge Warren Wilbert allowed Roeder to present evidence that he sincerely believed his actions were justified to save unborn children — a defense that could have led to a conviction on the lesser offense of voluntary manslaughter.
But he would not give jurors the option of considering a voluntary manslaughter conviction. Such a defense requires that a person must be stopping the imminent use of unlawful force, he said, but Tiller was shot in church.
The prosecutors will ask the judge to require the 51-year-old Kansas City man to serve at least 50 years behind bars before he is eligible for parole. His attorneys plan to appeal, arguing jurors should have been allowed to consider the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter, requiring proof that Roeder had an unreasonable but honest belief that deadly force was justified.
Irrespective of the fate of such arguments, the anti-abortionists are not unduly bothered. After all, there are other ways of making their point. They openly threaten more violence. Tiller was the eight person to be killed for promoting abortion since 1993 by God's self-appointed warriors.
Among the spectators at the trial was Randall Terry, the founder of Operation Rescue, which organized the 1991 "Summer of Mercy" protests that included attempts to block Tiller's Wichita clinic and led to more than 2,700 arrests. As the jury was deliberating in Wichita, Terry said he believed that no matter the outcome of Roeder's trial, more violence was inevitable.
"The blood of these babies slain by Tiller is crying for vengeance," he said.
The Rev. Donald Spitz, of Chesapeake, Virgini., who runs the Army of God Web site supporting violence against abortion providers hailed Roeder as a hero and warned, ""I know there is not a lot of good feeling out there — everybody is pretty angry," he said.
His website with horrid pictures of babies aborted, quoting from the Bible liberally, virtually eggs on every visitor to take to arms to protect life.
It was this Spitz who was the spiritual adviser to Paul Hill and was with him at his 2003 execution for the killing of a Florida abortion provider and a clinic escort in 1994. While saying he knows nothing of impending plans by others against abortion doctors, Spitz said, "Times change...People are not as passive as they have been. They are more assertive." The man is allowed to get away with such ominous warnings, leaving those supporting abortion, dreading what is in store for them.
Abortion-rights advocates said that justice was served Friday, but that Roeder's case shouldn't end with the verdict.
"We've spoken with the Department of Justice about the importance of continuing to investigate whether or not anybody else aided and abetted Roeder in the commission of this crime and to bring federal charges against him as well," said Vicki Saporta, president of the National Abortion Federation, who attended the trial.
She also said there was a rise in anti-abortion violence over the past year.
"We used to have members report incidents once a month — now it's every day," Saporta said. "Every time, we forward it on to Justice Department task force, and they report it to FBI so nothing slips through the cracks."
After Tiller was killed, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that it had begun an investigation into whether others were involved in the shooting. Justice Department officials said the investigation is continuing. Agency officials attended the trial.
Kathy Spillar, executive vice president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, said she hoped the trial would propel the investigation.
"Our sincere hope now is that with the door thrown wide open by the district attorney and her cross-examination of Scott Roeder and by his own testimony of his relationship with other extremists who promote the murder of doctors, that a thorough and rigorous investigation will be conducted into whether or not this murder was part of a conspiracy to kill Dr. Tiller and to kill other doctors," said Spillar.
Tiller's clinic — which drew patients from around the world because he was one of a handful of doctors in the country who performed late-term abortions — has closed for good.