Special Reports

Suspect in Tiller's death in court today

For the first time since Wichita abortion provider George Tiller was shot to death inside his church, the public will hear details today about what happened that morning.

District Attorney Nola Foulston expects to call fewer than 10 witnesses today in a preliminary hearing for Scott Roeder, the man charged with first-degree murder in Tiller's death.

Sedgwick County District Judge Warren Wilbert will hear testimony and evidence to determine whether there's probable cause to send Roeder, 51 to trial.

Today's hearing is expected to once again bring attention to Wichita as a central site in the nation's debate over abortion.

Tiller's death on May 31, while he worked as an usher at Reformation Lutheran Church, shocked both sides of the abortion issue.

Foulston said she expected this to be a "pretty straightforward hearing."

Wilbert will likely hear testimony from Gary Hoepner and Keith Martin. Prosecutors say Roeder pointed a gun at Hoepner and Martin after shooting Tiller. He is charged with two counts of aggravated assault in connection with that incident.

The judge may also hear testimony from some of the responding officers and Rick Craig, the lead homicide detective on the case.

In Kansas, a preliminary hearing is usually the first substantive airing of evidence against a defendant. Prosecutors must show they have evidence to support taking the case to trial.

The defense usually doesn't present evidence beyond what it gleans in cross-examination of witnesses.

Wilbert, meanwhile, must hear the evidence in a light most favorable to prosecutors.

Roeder will not enter a plea until after Wilbert decides whether the case should go to trial.

Tiller's shooting death made international news because he was one of the few doctors in the country who performed late-term abortions.

Although Tiller drew protests and attention from abortion opponents, those same organizations were quick to condemn his murder.

Roeder, meanwhile, has spoken publicly about the shooting and while not directly addressing any personal involvement, has called the killing justified.

He expressed "relief and joy" over Tiller's killing to The Kansas City Star and added: "For the man accused of this, things fell together for that day."

Foulston and her top two deputies, Kim Parker and Ann Swegle, are prosecuting the case.

Steve Osburn, head of the regional public defenders' office, is lead counsel for Roeder's defense, along with Mark Rudy.

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