Militants contact Roeder in jail
11/09/2009 5:11 PM
11/09/2009 5:11 PM
The list of those visiting and communicating with the man accused of killing Wichita abortion provider George Tiller reads like a who's who of anti-abortion militants.
Two convicted clinic bombers. The man behind the Army of God Web site. Several activists who once signed a declaration that defended the killing of abortion providers.
And federal agents have now talked to many of them.
As Scott Roeder sits in the Sedgwick County Jail awaiting trial on murder charges, a federal investigation is under way to determine whether there was a conspiracy involved in Tiller's death.
Abortion-rights advocates say Roeder's contacts since the shooting raise questions.
"This is definitely a concern," said Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation. "This guy has been in the hard-core anti-abortion circle for a long time, and there has been a pattern of communication and encouragement among these people."
Those supporting Roeder say there is no conspiracy, no matter who contacts him.
"The only way they're going to prove that is if they make one up," said Jennifer McCoy, who served time in prison for trying to burn down abortion clinics in Virginia in the 1990s and now lives in Wichita.
McCoy, who has visited Roeder several times in jail, said she called the FBI and told agents that she planned to see Roeder.
"I told them that they better have a dang good reason if they come ask me any questions, and that I had every intention of going to visit him and talk to him," said McCoy, who also attended Roeder's preliminary hearing on July 28. "I didn't know him before, but now I have no problem visiting him."
FBI and U.S. Justice Department officials declined to comment on the investigation.
The federal investigation into the possible existence of a conspiracy began after Tiller — one of a handful of doctors in the country who performed late-term abortions — was shot in the foyer of his Wichita church on May 31 while serving as an usher.
Roeder, 51, of Kansas City, was charged with first-degree murder. He has pleaded not guilty, and a trial is scheduled for Sept. 21.
Roeder's bond was originally set at $5 million, but a judge raised it to $20 million after Roeder called the Associated Press on June 7 and warned that there were "many other similar events planned around the country as long as abortion remains legal."
Contacted by agents
Several Kansas City-area anti-abortion activists told the Kansas City Star that they have been contacted by the FBI. Among them are Anthony Leake and Eugene Frye, who have made regular trips to Wichita to visit Roeder.
Frye said he was contacted within a few days of Tiller's murder because he and another activist had said in interviews that they had seen Roeder two weeks before the shooting.
"The FBI came around and wanted to know what we knew about his activity and whether he said anything," Frye said. "I knew Scott for 15 years. Never one time did he ever give any indication that he was going to do anything violent."
Frye said the idea of a conspiracy "is just ludicrous" and amounts to "nothing more than a witch hunt." He said he is visiting Roeder in jail because he wants to help Roeder talk through using a justifiable homicide defense if that is his wish.
"He's entitled to publicly tell his reason why he did what he did," Frye said. "Whether he gets found guilty, that's up to the courts."
Leake, who for years has vocally supported the use of force against abortion providers, said he is not talking to authorities and has forwarded their inquiries to his attorney.
He said he didn't think anyone persuaded Roeder to go after Tiller.
"I don't believe anyone in good conscience could encourage someone to take a step like that," Leake said. "That's something they'd have to do on their own."
He added, however, that "I support the shooting of George Tiller as justifiable homicide. I only wish that it would have happened in 1973, before he was able to murder his first child."
Frye and several other abortion foes have been placed on the prosecution's witness list in the case.
Among them is Shelley Shannon, the woman who shot and wounded Tiller in 1993. Investigators won't say why she is on the list, but the Rev. Donald Spitz, the director of Pro-Life Virginia, who calls Roeder an "American hero," said Shannon has been writing letters from prison encouraging people to support Roeder.
And in an interview last month, Roeder told the Star that he had visited Shannon when she was serving time in prison in Topeka for shooting Tiller. Shannon is now serving a 20-year sentence for a series of clinic bombings and arsons in the Pacific Northwest.
Also on the witness list is McCoy, who was sentenced in 1997 to 2 1/2 years in prison for two Virginia clinic arsons and is now living in Wichita. She told the Star she had been "sidewalk counseling" outside Tiller's clinic at least once a week for years.
McCoy, who used to go by the name Jennifer Patterson Sperle, said she had visited Roeder several times "and I intend on going back, because while he's here, he just needs to know that people care about what happens to him."
Letters in jail
In addition to his visitors, Roeder has received scores of letters in jail.
Among the writers are Spitz, who operates the Army of God Web site, which advocates killing abortion providers; Dave Leach of Iowa, who once published the Army of God manual, a "how to" book on clinic violence; and Michael Bray of Ohio, who spent four years in prison for the firebombings of abortion-related facilities on the East Coast in the 1980s. Bray also wrote the book "A Time to Kill," which offers religious arguments for using force to stop abortion.
All three, who confirmed they've written to Roeder, signed a 1993 declaration advocating the use of force against abortion providers. The petition was circulated by Paul Hill, who shot an abortion provider and his escort to death in Pensacola, Fla., in 1994.
Spitz said he also talks to Roeder by telephone every week.
"We talk about defending the unborn with the use of force, but we don't talk about his particular case," Spitz said. "I sent him some Paul Hill pamphlets, and recently he requested Mike Bray's book."
Spitz said he mailed the book to Roeder's lawyers, but Roeder said they would not give it to him until he went to prison.
Spitz said he had not been contacted recently by any authorities. If they do come calling, he said, he won't talk to them.
He said there is no conspiracy to commit violence.
"I think people now know not to discuss anything with anybody because they don't want to implicate others," he said.
Spitz said he communicates with Shannon frequently and added that she was upset to learn she was on the prosecution's witness list.
Bray, whose name also appears on the prosecution's witness list, told the Star that he'd been trading letters with Roeder since Roeder's arrest.
Bray said he had not been contacted by authorities, but he thinks he knows why.
"I always tell the FBI when they come around, if you want me to help you find something on such-and-such, I'll do that," he said. "But if you want to find someone who's trying to save babies, I've got nothing to say to you. So they don't ever bother coming around anymore."
Another activist who has been communicating with Roeder is Linda Wolfe of McMinnville, Ore. Wolfe said she's been sending money to Roeder at the request of her friend, Shelley Shannon.
"She wrote me a letter and said, 'Please send him some money. I was there seven months. The food is horrible.' I sent him $20 or $30, then I sent him $30 the first of July, and I told him I'll send him $30 the first of every month."
Wolfe said Roeder sent her a letter and a pamphlet that praised Paul Hill.
"I just trashed it," she said. "I told him I really believe he's wrong and that I hoped we could work through this. He needs to be kept uplifted."
Roeder has sent the Paul Hill pamphlets to numerous people, including his ex-wife, Lindsey Roeder. In a June 12 letter, Roeder included the Hill brochure and an article about Tiller's death called "The Just End to a Violent, Wicked Man."
The article, written by Dan Holman of Missionaries to the Pre-Born Iowa, defended Tiller's murder and criticized abortion opponents who have condemned the killing.
Also included was a handwritten note to Roeder from Holman. The note said: "Hang in there, Scott. Don't deny the truth or the humanity of the pre-born."