Ushers say Roeder pointed a gun at them

01/26/2010 12:00 AM

04/03/2012 1:55 PM

Gary Hoepner said he was stunned when a man walked into the lobby of Reformation Lutheran Church and shot George Tiller in the head.

"He just walked up, put the gun... boom. Shot him. Point blank. Right in the side of his head,'' Hoepner said.

"In my mind I repeated, 'Oh my God. Oh my God,' several times as George was falling."

Hoepner was the state's first witness Monday during the first full week of testimony in the first-degree murder trial of Scott Roeder, who has publicly confessed to shooting Tiller.

Prosecutors contend that Roeder, an outspoken abortion opponent, shot Tiller because of his role as one of the nation's most prominent abortion doctors.

After shooting Tiller at the start of Sunday morning services on May 31, Roeder quickly left the area, Hoepner said,

"All of a sudden the guy's going out the door," he said.

"What did you do?" prosecutor Kim Parker asked.

"I chased after him," Hoepner said. "I was probably 20 feet behind him."

When Roeder realized he was being followed, Hoepner said, he turned and told him, "I've got a gun. I'll shoot you."

Hoepner said he stopped.

"He already shot one person," Hoepner testified. "I had no reason to believe he wouldn't shoot me."

Hoepner said he went to his pickup, got his cell phone and called 911.

On cross-examination by defense attorney Steve Osburn, Hoepner testified that Roeder said, "Lord, forgive me," as he ran away.

Keith Martin, who like Hoepner and Tiller was working as a church usher that day, also chased Roeder into the parking lot.

"I didn't have a real firm plan in mind," Martin said of his actions.

He said he was about 20 feet away as Roeder started getting into his car. He said when he tried to block Roeder's path, Roeder pointed the gun at him and said, "Move or I'll shoot."

"I was just looking right down the barrel; I could see it that clearly," Martin said.

"I felt like he was going to shoot me if I didn't move, so I moved out of the way.... I was certain he was going to shoot me."

Roeder also faces two counts of aggravated assault, prosecutors say, for threatening Hoepner and Martin.

Martin said he wasn't sure why, but he threw a Styrofoam cup of coffee at Roeder as he drove off.

"It was pretty close, and the window was pretty open... the cup went in window," he said. "It seemed like the thing to do at time."

He said Roeder appeared startled but not burned by the coffee.

"I'd been carrying it around for 20 minutes," he said. "I don't think it was that hot."

Also testifying Monday was Charles Scott, another usher, who was climbing the stairs to the balcony when he heard what he thought was a firecracker.

Scott said he headed in the direction of the noise, then instinctively ran outside. He said he managed to get the tag number of the car before it left the church parking lot and headed north on Broadmoor then west on 13th Street.

Most church members who have testified at the trial said they remember seeing Roeder at the church several times before the day of the shooting.

A pastor at the church, Kristin Neitzel, said Roeder attended a special service the night before Tiller was shot. She testified that he stayed only a few minutes at the service the evening of May 30.

Neitzel also said ushers had earlier told her they were suspicious about Roeder, in part because he asked a lot of questions

Some church members who testified also recalled anti-abortion protests at the church in years past.

Martin said that on at least four occasions, protesters disrupted services by standing up and creating disturbances in the middle of a service.

For about two years, he said, the church was the scene of weekly outdoor protests by people carrying anti-abortion signs.

"They'd holler things at you when you come in," he said. "Holler things at your kids when they're coming and going.

"To me it was just hollering and making noise. I didn't hear anything that they had to say."

Editor's Choice Videos

Join the Discussion

The Wichita Eagle is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Terms of Service