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Police and witnesses recall details of the day Tiller was shot

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Saturday, Jan. 23, 2010, at 12:08 a.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, April 3, 2012, at 1:55 p.m.

Two minutes and three seconds after the first 911 call, Wichita police had the name of a suspect in the George Tiller shooting. A witness relayed the tag number on the getaway car to a dispatcher who matched the car to Scott Roeder and forwarded his name to police.

As evidence in Roeder's first-degree murder trial got under way Friday, defense lawyers made little effort to dispute the claim that Roeder shot Tiller in the lobby of Reformation Lutheran Church on May 31.

Prosecutors struggled, at times, to keep abortion out of the discussion and tried to focus on evidence that showed that Roeder pressed a .22-caliber pistol against Tiller's forehead and fired the shot that killed him.

But everyone in the courtroom — including the jury, apparently — was aware of the fact that Tiller was one of the nation's most prominent abortion doctors, and that Roeder was an outspoken abortion opponent.

Roeder has publicly confessed to shooting Tiller, telling the media in November that he killed Tiller to protect the unborn.

"I think every single juror said they were aware of the case," defense lawyer Mark Rudy said as he argued unsuccessfully for a change of venue at the start of the trial. "They were aware of Dr. Tiller. They were aware of his profession."

As testimony began, witnesses told the jury that Roeder had been at Reformation Lutheran Church at 7601 E. 13th St., just west of Rock Road, at least twice before the day of the shooting.

He was there on the previous Sunday, when Tiller was not in attendance.

And he was there six months earlier, church member Paul Ryding testified. Ryding said he had a "very awkward" exchange with Roeder after services that day.

"He did not participate in any portion of the worship service," Ryding testified. "I certainly had the feeling there was an agenda there."

"What kind of agenda?" Rudy asked.

"He was not there to worship," Ryding said. "There was another agenda."

Two of the early witnesses were Wichita police officers.

Officer Erik Landon said he was patrolling near 17th and Hillside when he heard the shooting call, which was not on his beat.

"It's a Sunday morning and it's a shooting at a church," Landon said. "If I'm anywhere close, I'm going to go and help out."

Officer Valerie Shirkey said she and her partner were patrolling near Central and Hillside when the call went out. She said she learned through the patrol car's computer that the victim was Tiller.

"We responded red light and siren," she said.

When they arrived, she said, "I grabbed the camera out of vehicle and ran in.... In my opinion, he was probably already gone."

"You took a camera in?" defense lawyer Steve Osburn asked.

"You betcha," Shirkey said. "Along with my gun."

At least two of Shirkey's photographs were shown to the jury.

Church member Kathy Wegner said she and her daughter were setting up a table for a church fundraiser when the shooting occurred. Wegner heard a pop, she said, and noticed a flash out of the corner of her eye.

"I saw Dr. Tiller just fall flat on his back," she said.

Wegner said she ran to the business office to call 911. The tag number came from a second 911 call made outside the church.

The final witness of the day was Ryding, who was in the sanctuary when he heard the pop, then ran to the foyer and found Tiller on the floor. He said he tried to administer first aid.

"It was very apparent that his vital signs were severely compromised," said Ryding, a Wichita veterinarian. "There was no respiration. No evidence of a pulse.... There was a considerable amount — a considerable amount" — of blood.

Ryding said he continued to administer CPR until rescue crews arrived.

"I was aware that this probably wasn't going to work," he said. "I could not do nothing."

The trial resumes Monday in the courtroom of District Judge Warren Wilbert.

Reach Hurst Laviana at 316-268-6499 or hlaviana@wichitaeagle.com.

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