Crime & Courts

Roeder takes stand, admits killing Tiller

For three hours Thursday Scott Roeder explained from the witness stand how and why he shot and killed Wichita abortion provider George Tiller.

"I did what I thought needed to be done to protect the children. I shot him," Roeder said. "These babies were dying every day. I felt if something was not done, he was going to continue.

"The lives of those children were in imminent danger.... If someone didn't stop him, they were going to continue to die."

"Scott, do you regret what you did?" his lawyer asked.

"No I don't," Roeder replied.

The defense rested its case Thursday after calling Roeder as its only witness.

Roeder's testimony dominated the fifth day of his first-degree murder trial, but there were other significant developments — none of which were favorable to Roeder.

The defense suffered a major setback when District Judge Warren Wilbert announced he would not include voluntary manslaughter in the list of options the jury can consider when it begins deliberations today.

The Kansas voluntary manslaughter law can apply to a defendant who has an "honest but unreasonable belief" that deadly force is necessary "to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm." Defense lawyers argued that Roeder had such a belief.

Another setback for the defense came when Wilbert ruled that former Attorney General Phill Kline would not be able to testify about his efforts to prosecute Tiller for what Kline alleged were violations of Kansas abortion laws.

Wilbert said the testimony was not relevant to the Roeder case.

Also during the trial, the public learned for the first time that the gun used to shoot Tiller was buried by Roeder in a pile of dirt he saw while driving near Burlington along U.S. 75 on his way to his home in Kansas City, Mo.

Roeder said he told his lawyers about the location of the gun, but that the dirt pile was gone when they tried to retrieve it.

Some of Roeder's testimony was focused on his early life in Topeka, where he said he attended church with his family but wasn't overly religious.

Roeder said he became a Christian in 1992 after watching a Christian television show. He said his views on abortion began to change.

"From conception forward, it is not man's job to take a life," he said of his current belief.

"The only exception I even struggle with" he said, is when the life of the mother is at stake.

Roeder said he eventually began to take part in sidewalk counseling and protests at abortion clinics in the Kansas City area. He later started coming to Tiller's clinic in Wichita.

Roeder told the jury that Tiller's clinic was bombed in the 1980s, and that Tiller was shot in both arms in 1993. But he said the clinic remained open.

During the past decade, Roeder said, the state twice tried unsuccessfully to prosecute Tiller for alleged violations of state abortion laws.

And because the clinic remained open, Roeder said, he decided to close it himself by killing Tiller. He told the jury he first had to figure out a way to get to Tiller.

"He had an armed vehicle, a bulletproof vest, a security guard escort to and from the clinic. He lived in a gated community," Roeder said.

"I thought about driving my car into his. Possibly shooting him with a rifle."

Roeder said he eventually decided Tiller was vulnerable in only one place — his church.

"That probably was the only place he could be stopped," he said. "It was the only opportunity I saw."

On the morning of the shooting, Roeder said, he entered the Reformation Lutheran Church at 7601 E. 13th St. at 9:55 and sat in the sanctuary. He said Tiller, a church usher that day, briefly entered the sanctuary a few minutes later. He said he followed Tiller in to the foyer and shot him.

"Did Dr. Tiller drop to the floor instantly?" defense lawyer Mark Rudy asked.

"Two or three seconds later he did, yes," Roeder replied.

"Did you think about putting the gun down on the ground and surrendering?" Rudy asked.

"In hindsight, I probably should have," Roeder said.

District attorney Nola Foulston pressed Roeder during cross-examination.

"Did it appear he was aware you were there?" Foulston asked.

"I don't think he was aware," Roeder said.

"You pulled the trigger...."

"Yes," Roeder replied.

"And for two or three seconds, Dr. Tiller continued to stand?"

"It seemed like he did."

Foulston asked if Roeder was aware, as he drove away, that it was Tiller who had been shot.

"I was 99 percent sure," he said.

In his car, Roeder said he listened to radio news reports but heard nothing about Tiller.

"Did you believe your arrest was imminent?" Foulston asked.

"I felt that yes, I eventually would be apprehended," Roeder said.

Roeder said he stopped along the way for gas and a pizza.

"You had lunch for yourself after killing Dr. Tiller?" Foulston asked.

"I was hungry," Roeder said.

"This was just another thing that happened that day — yes or no?" Foulston asked.

"Yes," Roeder replied.

Jurors are expected to begin deliberations this morning after lawyers present their closing arguments.

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