Militant convicted of murdering abortionist

The right-to-life militant who rose from his pew in a Wichita, Kansas, church one Sunday last May and shot dead a local abortion provider, George Tiller, was found guilty of first degree murder yesterday. As controversial as the trial was – and as fraught as the debate over abortion remains – the jury took just 37 minutes to deliberate.

The verdict, which is likely to spell life imprisonment for Scott Roeder, brought to an abrupt end a trial that become a crucible for a debate in America that never seems to end. Opponents of abortion condemned it and predicted it would only cause more violence while advocates for abortion rights lauded it.

In a tiny Wichita courtroom, the trial reached an emotional pinnacle and key legal pivot on Thursday. It was the moment when the defence team put their only witness on the stand to testify – Roeder himself. He variously admitted to shooting Dr Tiller, to planning the murder for more than a year and even contemplating other forms of assault, such as slicing his hands off with a sword.

But Thursday also saw a crucial ruling by the judge in the case related to the argument that was at the heart of Roeder's defence: that though there was no disputing that the murder had taken place – he pulled the trigger of the gun only after pressing the barrel into the skin of the victim's forehead – he was acting out of a conviction that he was protecting the lives of the unborn and felt he was doing the right thing.

It had been the contention of the defence that this so-called justification for the killing warranted making the case one of involuntary manslaughter instead of first degree murder. Abortion advocates and many legal experts across the country were enraged when the judge at first said he was keeping an open mind as to the soundness of the argument. But late on Thursday he indicated he would not allow the jury to consider manslaughter.

That there was not much doubt for the jury seemed clear from the remarkable speed of their deliberations. As the foreman read out the verdict, Roeder looked ahead, his face free of visible emotion save for rapid blinking.

Just a day earlier, the courtroom had heard Roeder coolly agree with the prosecution's description with what happened on the day of the killing. "That is correct, yes," when asked if he had killed the doctor. "I did what I thought was needed to be done to protect the children. I shot him," he testified, adding at another point: "If I didn't do it, the babies were going to die the next day."

In closing arguments, the prosecution rejected any notion that the killing could be excused. "He claims justification," Kim Parker, prosecuting, said. "These are not the acts of a justified man. These acts are cowardly."

Dr Tiller had been only one of a few doctors in the US still offering late-term abortions. Prosecutors pointed out that he was never in violation of Kansas's abortion laws.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk