WICHITA, Kansas — Defiant to the end, an anti-abortion zealot who murdered one of the few U.S. doctors who performed late-term abortions was sentenced Thursday to life in prison and won’t be eligible for parole for 50 years — the maximum allowed by law.
Scott Roeder, 52, faced a mandatory life prison term for gunning down Dr. George Tiller in the back of Tiller’s Wichita church last May. He showed no remorse during the daylong sentencing hearing and sought to justify his crime by describing abortion procedures in gritty and graphic detail.
“I stopped him so he could not dismember another innocent baby,” Roeder said. “Wichita is a far safer place for unborn babies without George Tiller.”
District Judge Warren Wilbert had the choice to make Roeder eligible for parole after 25 or 50 years, but said he gave him the harsher sentence because evidence showed Roeder stalked Tiller before killing him. As he was being led away in handcuffs, Roeder shouted, “Blood of babies on your hands.”
Wilbert also sentenced Roeder to serve an additional year in prison on each of two counts of aggravated assault for threatening two church ushers in the melee. Allowing for possible time off those sentences for good behaviour, Roeder won’t be eligible for parole for 51 years and eight months.
In a rambling statement, Roeder — who at trial testified that he killed Tiller to save unborn children — blamed Tiller’s death primarily on the state for not outlawing abortion. He interrupted Wilbert several times as the judge discussed the sentence from the bench. As Wilbert read from a previous court decision saying that allowing vigilantism would promote chaos, Roeder said, “Baby murder is anarchy and chaos.”
Forty minutes into his remarks, Wilbert stopped Roeder as he was about to publicly attack District Attorney Nola Foulston.
“It is not a forum for you to get on a soap box for you to give your entire political beliefs,” Wilbert told Roeder.
Roeder accused Wilbert of “duplicity” and said his trial was a miscarriage of justice because he wasn’t allowed to present testimony about the evils of abortion. He also said God’s judgment against the U.S. will “sweep over this land like a prairie wind.”
“He will avenge every drop of innocent blood,” Roeder said.
Earlier Thursday, Lee Thompson, who was Tiller’s friend and attorney and represents the Tiller family, asked Wilbert to give Roeder the harshest sentence possible, saying anything less would encourage other anti-abortion fanatics to follow in Roeder’s footsteps.
“It will happen again and again,” Thompson said. “This is domestic terrorism. This act will be repeated by this person if he ever sees the light of day again.”
Thompson described Tiller as a devoted husband, father and grandfather and a strong believer in women’s rights. He said his office still receives calls from women seeking medical services. As he spoke, Tiller’s widow Jeanne cried. Roeder at times looked away, yawned and took a drink of water.
“The impact of his death on women throughout the world is like an earthquake,” Thompson said. “They ask, where can I go? What will I do?’ I have to say, ’I’m sorry, I can’t tell you.’ That’s the impact of this crime.”
Foulston argued that the longer sentence was warranted because Roeder stalked Tiller for years. Roeder testified in January that he had previously taken a gun into the doctor’s church and had checked out the gated subdivision where Tiller lived and the clinic where he practiced.
Foulston also told the court that Roeder put others at the church in danger when he shot the doctor and when others chased him afterward. In delivering his sentence, Wilbert said that the choice of venue for the killing, a church, made it even more heinous.
Security was tight for the hearing. Law enforcement officers had explosive-detecting dogs sniffing reporters’ equipment before the hearing. Four sheriff’s deputies were on duty outside the courtroom Thursday, along with several agents from both the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.