A Sedgwick County judge said Wednesday that he won’t let the resentencing of physician George Tiller’s killer become a “general discussion or political forum on abortion.”
“We’re not going to talk about how many abortions are performed in the state of Kansas, how many were performed in Wichita, Kansas. … Things of that nature are just so inflammatory and doesn’t have any bearing on Mr. (Scott) Roeder’s thought process on the day he walked into that church,” District Judge Warren Wilbert said during the latest court hearing addressing legal matters leading up to the start of Roeder’s Nov. 28 trial.
“I’m prepared to let Mr. Roeder pontificate for two or three days (on the stand) if that’s what he wants to do. This is his mitigation phase of the trial. It’s his resentencing.”
But, Wilbert added: “I’m not going to turn it into a circus.”
The judge’s statements came during a discussion of the witnesses Roeder’s defense attorneys want to put before jurors to testify in support of giving him a life sentence that comes with parole eligibility in 25 years instead of after 50 years. Their list includes abortion opponents, prison staff members and medical personnel knowledgeable about abortion practices, as well as Roeder’s family and acquaintances.
Prosecutors have asked the judge to limit who can be put on the witness stand to keep what they see as irrelevant information away from jurors. But Kansas law allows Roeder, 58, considerable leeway in what evidence he can present to jurors in his bid for leniency.
Wilbert said Wednesday that Roeder, his brother and sister, his children and their mothers and medical personnel who evaluated Roeder will be allowed. But, he said, defense attorneys will have to show that other proposed character witnesses on the list knew Roeder before the shooting and can speak to his beliefs and state of mind.
Roeder shot Tiller during Sunday services at Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita on May 31, 2009, in what he said was an effort to end abortion after other attempts had failed. He was convicted of first-degree premeditated murder in 2010 and ordered to serve a Hard 50 life prison term – life without parole eligibility for 50 years.
But the sentence was thrown out in 2014 by the Kansas Supreme Court in response to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, prompting the trial that will play out in Sedgwick County District Court this fall.
At the time of his death, Tiller was nationally known for performing late-term abortions at his east Wichita clinic at 5107 E. Kellogg. His clinic is now home to Trust Women South Wind Women’s Center.
Roeder is serving his current prison sentence at Ellsworth Correctional Facility.