Scott Roeder gets Hard 50 in murder of abortion provider George Tiller

Scott Roeder yells as he is led from the courtroom in 2010 after he was given the Hard 50 prison sentence by Sedgwick County District Judge Warren Wilbert. Roeder began shouting as he was led from the courtroom. Roeder was convicted of killing Wichita physician George Tiller.
Scott Roeder yells as he is led from the courtroom in 2010 after he was given the Hard 50 prison sentence by Sedgwick County District Judge Warren Wilbert. Roeder began shouting as he was led from the courtroom. Roeder was convicted of killing Wichita physician George Tiller. The Wichita Eagle

It took only 37 minutes to convict Scott Roeder of murder in January; it took nine hours Thursday to sentence him.

As expected, Sedgwick County District Judge Warren Wilbert sentenced Roeder, 52, to life in prison with no possibility of parole for 50 years for the murder of Wichita abortion provider George Tiller.

“I have to say, Scott Roeder has no regrets and neither do I,” District Attorney Nola Foulston said afterward.

“As I listened to Mr. Roeder, it confirmed my belief he is a person who should not be in our community.”

During the hearing, Roeder interrupted lawyers and the judge and also spoke for 45 minutes in an attempt to mitigate his sentence. He read for 30 minutes from a book written by a man executed for killing an abortion doctor in Florida and compared his plight to that of Jesus Christ.

“The blood of babies is on your hands, Nola Foulston . . . and Ann Swegle,” Roeder yelled at prosecutors as sheriff’s deputies pushed him out of the courtroom after he was sentenced.

Roeder’s sentence was the maximum allowed under Kansas law.

“This crime was cruel and heinous, not only because it took our husband, father and grandfather, but because it was a hate crime committed against George — against all women and their constitutional rights,” Tiller’s family said through attorney Lee Thompson after the hearing ended.

During Roeder’s trial, a jury came back by lunch on Jan. 29 with a guilty verdict against Roeder, convicting him of first-degree murder and two counts of aggravated assault in the May 31 shooting of Tiller in the foyer of his church.

Entering Thursday’s hearing, a life sentence was never in doubt. That’s mandated under Kansas law.

The only question was whether Roeder would be eligible for parole after 25 years or 50.

At day’s end, Wilbert decided to impose the so-called Hard 50. He also sentenced Roeder to a year on each count of aggravated assault — for pointing his gun at Gary Hoepner and Keith Martin as they chased him from the church after Tiller’s killing.

Wilbert ordered those sentences to run consecutively to the Hard 50. Wilbert said that if Roeder lives past 102 then gets parole, he also faces lifetime supervision after his release.

‘This was a difficult case,’’ Foulston said outside the courthouse. “The difficulty was apparent from the emotion that rang across the courtroom, across our community and across the world.”

Thompson said the family wanted to focus on Tiller’s legacy as a health care provider who trusted women to make the choices that would affect their health and lives.

“Dr. Tiller’s story is being told every day in the lives of the women he helped. His legacy cannot be diminished by the act of a single terrorist,” Thompson said.

Thompson also addressed the court on the family’s behalf, as is their right at sentencing, talking about Tiller’s love for his family.

“George Tiller was known as an abortion doctor . . . but he was so much more than that,” Thompson said.

“This man did nothing halfway. He was never a halfway father,” Thompson said. “This murder has extinguished this family devotion.”

During Thompson’s address, Roeder stared straight ahead, not looking at Thompson or the Tiller family.

A full day in court

Roeder called four friends who had protested with him outside women’s clinics in Kansas City as character witnesses.

Judge Wilbert strongly admonished each of them that he would not allow them to make political statements about abortion.

“Everyone I’ve talked to about Scott said he was never threatening or mean-spirited to them,” said Eugene Frye, who quoted Bible verses about Roeder’s anti-abortion beliefs.

“Not one time did I ever hear him speak of violence to anyone,” Frye added.

Throughout the day Roeder interrupted lawyers and the judge, yelling that he killed Tiller “to protect unborn babies.”

During his statement, Roeder read from prepared remarks for 45 minutes, 30 of which he spent reading from a book by Paul Hill, executed for the 1994 murder of a Florida abortion provider.

When Roeder began to disparage Foulston, Wilbert stopped him.

“You killed Dr. Tiller. You’re not going to politically assassinate Nola Foulston,” the judge said. “I’m going to draw the line there.”

Public defenders Steve Osburn and Mark Rudy objected to Wilbert limiting Roeder’s chance to address the court.

“This is what he believes,” Osburn said. “This is what he thinks you need to decide on a sentence.”

Wilbert reviewed the documents that Roeder wished to read before the court. Wilbert said some were not relevant.

“I will accept them and seal them, and they will be part of the record,” Wilbert said.

That way the appeals courts can decide whether it all should have been presented in open court, he said.

Roeder spoke of a higher power, how he followed God’s laws, not man’s laws, when it came to abortion.

“If you would follow a higher power, you would acquit me,” Roeder told Wilbert.

“If you think you’re going to convince me with some last-minute plea, you’re wasting your time,” Wilbert said.

When Roeder said he wanted to address expectant mothers, Wilbert stopped him again.

“I’m not going to provide you with an all-night political forum,” Wilbert said as the hearing, which began at 9:15a.m., neared 5 p.m.

Prosecutor Ann Swegle argued that Roeder does not follow the law of the God he claims to worship.

“That says ‘Do not kill,’ ” Swegle said.

Psychologist testifies

Psychologist George Hough from Topeka said Roeder adopted extreme Christian beliefs in the early 1990s and began to obsess about abortion.

“He described an increasing sense of urgency to take action,” said Hough, who was called to testify by the defense.

“He saw himself as a foot soldier,” Hough said, adding that Roeder used war imagery in the way he talked about it.

On cross-examination, Swegle asked the psychologist whether Roeder “could act on his own free will.”

“Yes,” Hough replied.

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