Crime & Courts

Scott Roeder, who killed physician George Tiller, is back in court

Scott Roeder listen to Judge Warren Wilbert during a motion hearing on Wednesday. Roeder was convicted in 2010 in the death of George Tiller and is now serving a life sentence at the Ellsworth Correctional Facility. (April 6, 2016)
Scott Roeder listen to Judge Warren Wilbert during a motion hearing on Wednesday. Roeder was convicted in 2010 in the death of George Tiller and is now serving a life sentence at the Ellsworth Correctional Facility. (April 6, 2016) The Wichita Eagle

More than a year after the Kansas Supreme Court vacated his Hard 50 prison term, it remains unclear when the man who killed George Tiller will be resentenced.

Scott Roeder and his defense attorneys were in a Sedgwick County courtroom on Wednesday, arguing motions for the second time in preparation for the new sentencing hearing ordered in connection with the May 31, 2009, fatal shooting inside the Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita.

Roeder, who maintains he shot Tiller in defense of unborn children, will receive life in prison for his first-degree premeditated murder conviction. Tiller performed abortions at his east Wichita clinic.

What’s at issue is the length of Roeder’s incarceration before he’s eligible for parole: 25 or 50 years.

A new jury will be empaneled to hear testimony and weigh evidence presented by both the Sedgwick County District Attorney’s Office and Scott Roeder’s public defenders when he is resentenced.

A new jury will be empaneled to hear testimony and weigh evidence presented by both the Sedgwick County District Attorney’s Office and Roeder’s public defenders when Roeder is resentenced.

But as of Wednesday, no one knew when that would happen nor how long it would take for the hearing to play out.

Kim Parker, Sedgwick County’s chief deputy district attorney, said prosecutors will give jurors an overview of details revealed during Roeder’s 2010 trial. But, she said, the resentencing hearing will focus on whether Roeder warrants a harsher than usual sentence.

Attorneys are due back in court on April 29 for the next step in Roeder’s resentencing process. At that time, his defense attorneys will turn over a list of arguments – called mitigating factors – in favor of giving Roeder parole eligibility after 25 years.

A date for Roeder’s resentencing also is expected to come at that time.

I would think that it would not be as long as the first trial.

Kim Parker, Sedgwick County chief deputy district attorney

Prosecutors already have announced that they will ask for the Hard 50 sentence for two reasons, called aggravating factors.

They allege Roeder’s actions posed a great risk of death to more than one person and that he killed in an especially heinous, atrocious or cruel way.

Roeder, 58, was convicted of first-degree murder for Tiller’s shooting death and of two counts of aggravated assault for pointing a gun at two other men. District Judge Warren Wilbert gave Roeder his Hard 50 prison term – life with parole eligibility after 50 years – in April 2010.

That sentence was thrown out by the Kansas Supreme Court in October 2014 after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that juries, not judges, must weigh evidence for and against imposing a sentence harsher than the mandatory minimum.

Roeder’s will be the third Hard 50 resentencing hearing held in Sedgwick County since the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling, said Dan Dillon, spokesman for the Sedgwick County District Attorney’s Office.

Roeder’s will be the third Hard 50 resentencing hearing held in Sedgwick County since the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling, said Dan Dillon, spokesman for the Sedgwick County District Attorney’s Office.

Wilbert, who presided over Wednesday’s hearing, denied or dismissed all of the motions brought by Roeder’s attorneys, saying many were premature and should be handled nearer to or during Roeder’s resentencing.

Roeder testified at his 2010 trial that his Christian conversion left him strongly opposed to abortion and that he decided to kill Tiller after other attempts to stop abortions failed. His attorneys may argue that he killed in defense of others when he is resentenced.

Roeder, who is known for in-court outbursts, spoke only once during Wednesday’s hearing, interrupting when the judge said “murder is final” and “Dr. Tiller didn’t live to see another day.”

“Neither did his baby that he murdered,” Roeder said. He was quickly admonished.

Roeder will be sent back to Ellsworth Correctional Facility to await his next hearing, his attorneys said Wednesday.

Amy Renee Leiker: 316-268-6644, @amyreneeleiker

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