Abortion Provider's Killer Expected To Testify

Scott Roeder, 52, faces a mandatory life sentence for murdering Dr. George Tiller, one of the few U.S. doctors who performed late abortions. A judge was to decide Thursday whether Roeder, who was expected to speak about his anti-abortion beliefs, will be eligible for parole in 25 years or 50 years.

The man who gunned down a Kansas abortion provider at a church appeared in a Wichita, Kan., court on Thursday, where he was expected to speak about his anti-abortion beliefs before being sentenced.

Scott Roeder was convicted of murdering Dr. George Tiller, one of the few U.S. doctors who performed late abortions. He faces a mandatory life sentence, but Judge Warren Wilbert will decide Thursday whether Roeder will be eligible for parole in 25 years or 50 years.

Roeder has never denied committing the May 31 shooting, nor has he expressed remorse for killing Tiller in the foyer of the Wichita church where Tiller was serving as an usher.

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 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."

Before handing down the sentence, the judge 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.

Lee Thompson, an attorney for the Tiller family, 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, of Kansas City, Kan., 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. Copyright 2010 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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