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Roeder upset at Operation Rescue

  • Kansas City Star
  • Published Saturday, July 25, 2009, at 10:15 p.m.
  • Updated Monday, Nov. 9, 2009, at 5:12 p.m.

The man charged with killing Wichita abortion provider George Tiller said in an interview he's angry about a major anti-abortion group he thinks has abandoned him.

Scott Roeder also said from jail that he was elated that Tiller is dead and that he knows he could be going to prison for decades.

In a phone interview Friday, Roeder said he was upset at Operation Rescue president Troy Newman in Wichita, who has condemned the killing and said his organization had nothing to do with Roeder.

"He said that I never was a member and I never contributed any money," Roeder said. "Well, my gosh, I've got probably a thousand dollars worth of receipts, at least, from the money I've donated to him."

Roeder said he wrote Newman a letter from jail.

"I told him, 'You better get your story straight, because my lawyer said it'd be good for me to show that I was supporting a pro-life organization.' "

Newman said Friday he didn't believe Roeder gave money to his group.

"We have a database, but I haven't been able to find him in the database," he said. "If he did, we have probably over the past 10 years over 50,000 people who have contributed to us."

He said Tiller's killing has undermined the work of those trying to stop abortion through legal means.

"We've worked 20 years in the pro-life movement to do things within the system," he said. "It certainly doesn't help us out when guys assassinate abortionists in their church — or any other place."

Tiller — one of a handful of doctors in the country who performed late-term abortions — was shot in the foyer of Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita on May 31 while serving as an usher. His family decided not to reopen his clinic.

Roeder, 51, has been charged with first-degree murder. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Tuesday.

The Star interviewed Roeder three times in recent weeks, including once at the Sedgwick County Jail. He talked about a number of topics.

Tiller's death

Roeder said that he felt "relief and joy" over the shooting.

"And I've heard that three women have actually changed their minds and had their babies because there's no availability here," he said. "Wichita has been abortion-free since that time.

"That's total elation."

Roeder's actions May 31

Roeder was careful in answering questions about his whereabouts the day Tiller was killed.

"For the man accused of this," he said, "things fell together for that day." He added that "it would have been earlier if things had panned out."

He declined to elaborate.

Roeder didn't admit being in Wichita that day, but said, "I remember reading in the paper that they were checking all the toll booth cameras" on the Kansas Turnpike. "There are ways to get to Wichita without taking toll roads."

Roeder said that when he was arrested on I-35 in Johnson County several hours after the shooting, "I was going to get my paycheck at work and cash it and go and get something to eat."

Visits to Wichita

Roeder said he was no stranger to Wichita or Tiller's clinic.

"I had been here several times," he said. "I would come down here and do sidewalk counseling."

Roeder talked about attending Tiller's trial in Wichita in March. Tiller was found not guilty of breaking a state law requiring that two Kansas physicians without legal or financial ties sign off on any late-term abortion procedure.

"I actually was at part of the trial twice, but I was never able to attend the whole thing," he said. "They did not even deliberate for 25 minutes, and all of a sudden, bang! Not guilty. It was a very questionable thing."

Roeder said he was tired of Operation Rescue's Newman and other anti-abortion groups saying that they believed the state would have revoked Tiller's license within a few months of his trial.

"First of all, if the state of Kansas doesn't find him guilty, how are you going to get his license pulled?" Roeder said. "Not only that, approximately 300 more babies were going to die in two months."

Visits to prison

Roeder said he knew Shelley Shannon, the woman who shot and wounded Tiller in 1993. He said he visited Shannon in prison in Topeka when she was serving time for shooting Tiller.

"Every week that I was allowed to get in, I would see her, for probably two, three months," he said.

Shannon now is in federal prison, serving a 20-year sentence for committing a series of clinic bombings and arsons in the Pacific Northwest.

Dressed in a maroon jail-issue jumpsuit, Roeder was animated and in an upbeat mood throughout the 30-minute jailhouse interview. He laughed about media reports that there was a red rose in the back window of his car when he was arrested. A red rose is a symbol often used by those in the anti-abortion movement.

"My roommate, he was visiting some friends and brought home some carnations," he said. "I took one to put on my father's grave."

Justifiable homicide?

Roeder said he has believed since about 1992 that killing abortion doctors is an act of justifiable homicide.

He praised Paul Hill, who killed an abortion doctor and his bodyguard in Pensacola, Fla., in 1994, and said he agreed "100 percent with him." Hill was executed by the state of Florida in 2003.

Roeder said that "a lot of people have problems with violence in general," but in most cases, a person who prevents a killing is considered a hero.

"When a policeman shoots somebody on the street, for example, and stops somebody from taking the life of innocent people, that's violence, and everybody's fine with that," he said.

He said after he got involved in the abortion issue, "I would counsel with many people, get their viewpoints." But only 1 or 2 percent of those he talked to actually agreed with him regarding the killing of abortion doctors, he said.

"Nobody was willing to do anything about it," he said, adding that it's wrong "for society to allow such an egregious sin to go on."

Tactics for trial

Roeder said that according to Kansas statutes, a homicide can be justified if committed in the defense of self and others. He said his lawyer told him that attempting to use such a defense would be a problem because "the party lethal force is used against has to be engaged in unlawful activity," and abortion is not illegal.

He also spoke about jury nullification, a concept that when the law is wrong, a jury has the right to take the law into its own hands.

When asked if he was considering raising the issue at his trial, he said, "I will try and educate the jury without bringing up the term 'jury nullification.' "

Roeder's lawyer, Steve Osburn, said Friday that he could not comment on any aspect of the case.

"We are just touching the tip of the iceberg as far as discovery goes," he said. "What path we may be led down at this point is a little premature to speculate."

Letters to Roeder

Roeder said he's received about 100 letters while in jail.

"Out of all those, probably two or three have been negative," he said. "Everybody else is supportive, positive. It's really quite a job trying to respond to everybody."

Roeder has spoken to a few reporters since his arrest, but has declined to say whether he killed Tiller.

On June 4, he called the Associated Press and said he was "being treated as a criminal" even though he hadn't been convicted of anything. He called the AP again on June 7, warning that there were "many other similar events planned around the country as long as abortion remains legal."

On June 9, Roeder conducted a jailhouse interview with CNN, saying that if he is convicted in the slaying, "the entire motive was the defense of the unborn." A judge increased Roeder's bond from $5 million to $20 million, citing comments he made to the media.

Roeder then called a Wichita television station on June 22, saying that no one had come forward to bond him out of jail.

Roeder said he was ready for his preliminary hearing on Tuesday.

"I'm just wanting to get the process going," he said.

He said he was prepared to spend a long time in prison.

"Well, yeah, it's a possibility," he said. "I suppose, if it's 25 to life. ... I'll be around 71 or 72 years old if I was to be let out on parole. A lot of people still have a lot of life left at that age."

Reach Judy L. Thomas at 816-234-4334 or jthomas@kcstar.com

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