Rule of law prevailed in Roeder case

Good people on either side of the abortion debate should be able to agree that Scott Roeder wasn't serving God when he murdered George Tiller last May, but rather playing God.

That's why a jury swiftly convicted Roeder of first-degree murder and other charges in January, and why Sedgwick County District Judge Warren Wilbert gave him the harshest sentence available Thursday — a Hard 50, meaning 52 years before he has a chance of parole.

Because the Kansas City, Mo., man objected to Tiller's medical practice and the law's view of abortion, a Wichita church's Sunday-morning service was interrupted by an act of appalling violence and a Wichita family was robbed of a husband, father and grandfather.

Roeder, who had stalked Tiller and carefully planned how to kill him, has compounded the offense in the months since May by showing no regret or remorse — none — for his crimes. Even the defense stipulated to that Thursday, serving prosecutors' assertions that Roeder would kill again if he had the chance.

Despite Roeder's best efforts, including the self-righteous sermon he delivered before his sentencing Thursday, the killer ultimately did not succeed in making his trial all about his extremist opposition to abortion, or in turning Tiller into the defendant as well as the victim.

That came as a relief — and a credit to Sedgwick County District Attorney Nola Foulston and her team and to Wilbert, whose determination to keep a tight rein on the proceedings was sorely tested Thursday by Roeder and his Bible-quoting character witnesses.

Because guilt was never an issue, going easy on Roeder in sentencing would have sent a dangerous message that religious or political views can justify violence.

In the end, the rule of law prevailed: Abortion is legal. The cold-blooded murder of a man at church is not. For his willful refusal to see a difference even in hindsight, Roeder now richly deserves to rot in prison.

In the wake of Tiller's slaying, The Eagle editorial board expressed the hope that people's attitudes and actions regarding abortion might change, that some common path might be found that could both promote life and respect women.

No surprise — such change remains elusive. At least that's how it seemed as abortion nearly derailed health care reform in Congress and left bitter feelings on both sides, and as the Kansas Legislature once again voted this week to tighten late-term abortion laws — never mind that Tiller's murder ended such procedures in Kansas.