Friday, January 29, 2010
It took a Kansas jury on Friday just 37 minutes to find Scott Roeder guilty of first-degree murder and aggravated assault in the shooting of Dr. George Tiller.
The prosecution said all along that this was a clear-cut murder case, and the defendant even admitted the crime. 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.
Roeder testified that 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 31 shooting.
Kim Parker, one of the prosecutors, says she hoped the judge's decision to not allow the jury to consider second-degree murder or voluntary manslaughter resonated.
"Hopefully it sends a clear message that this type of conduct is clearly not justified under the law," Parker said. "There is no place for this. There are no medals to be given for those who violate the rules."
Mark Rudy, Roeder's defense attorney, was clearly dejected after the verdict. He said Roeder made so many admissions that there was no hope without the voluntary manslaughter defense.
"The jury was not presented with any options obviously. He was either guilty of first-degree murder or let go…and we were not allowed to argue lesser," Rudy said. "Other things had been ruled out . So we were left with not much to argue frankly."
Some anti-abortion activists who attended the trial, including David Leach from Iowa and Michael Bray from Ohio, signed a petition arguing Roeder should be able to use a justifiable homicide defense. Randall Terry, founder of Operation Rescue, was also in court, and he said he didn't think that justice was served since the jury didn't get to consider Roeder's motive at preventing abortion.
"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 deserved their day in court, and it should have been this trial and it wasn't," Terry said.
But for abortion rights groups, the guilty verdict is a big victory. Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri said Roeder's conviction sends a clear message that domestic terrorists will be held accountable in Kansas and elsewhere.
"The evidence is so overwhelming I don't see how the jury could have arrived at any other decision. And I appreciate that 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," says Kathy Spillar, with the Feminists Majority Foundation.
Spillar says abortion rights groups want the Justice Department to file federal charges against Roeder for Tiller's murder and are 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.
The first-degree murder conviction carries a sentence of life in prison with the possibility of parole after 25 years. Sentencing is set for March 9.