Pro-life zealot on trial over US murder of 'hated' doctor

It was at a church in rural Kansas in May that the doctor who had become the ultimate hate figure for the United States's "pro-life" movement was shot dead. Yesterday a court in Wichita began hearing evidence against the man accused of murdering him.

The case of Dr George Tiller, one of the last doctors in the country to continue to practise late terminations in defiance of the anti-abortionists, reveals how polarised and how fiercely, sometimes homicidally emotional the struggle between the two sides has become. The trial, like the events surrounding the murder itself, will be closely scrutinised by both sides in the abortion debate in America. Dr Tiller had been a prime target of abortion opponents for more than 25 years, keeping his Wichita clinic open for years in spite of repeated assaults against the property and indeed against himself.

The right-to-life movement was quick to condemn the murder, but nonetheless has since found itself on the defensive over it.

Yesterday the court heard evidence from Gary Hoepner, a witness to the killing who by his own testimony might well have become a second victim.

Dr Tiller was a regular usher at the Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita and Mr Hoepner was serving as an usher alongside him on Sunday 31 May. Morning service had just ended and he and Dr Tiller were reaching for doughnuts at the snack table when, according to Mr Hoepner, the defendant came up to the doctor and shot him in the head at close range.

Mr Hoepner was one of several people in the church that Sunday morning or in the parking area outside who were called upon to describe the scene when Dr Tiller was killed. The man he claimed pulled the trigger is Scott Roeder of Kansas City, Missouri, who has been charged with gunning down the 67-year-old physician.

Mr Hoepner testified that at first he didn't know if the gun was real because it made a sound like a pop gun.

"George fell to the ground and I just said in my mind 'oh my God'," he told the court. "It was surreal, it sounded like a pop-gun". Mr Hoepner recalled instinctively running after the defendant after he left the church, but stopped when the man turned and told him: "I've got a gun and I'll shoot you." He told the judge: "I believed him and I stopped. I don't argue with a man with a gun."

Mr Roeder, 51, has been charged with premeditated murder and two counts of aggravated assault, one against Mr Hoepner. He had a history of evangelising against Dr Tiller and other abortion doctors in online postings where he sometimes went by the name of "ServantofMessiah".

He has not admitted guilt in the case, but in an interview in his prison cell he told one journalist that if he was to be convicted his motive for the killing was to protect the unborn. If he is convicted of first-degree murder he faces life in prison, with the possibility of parole after 25 years.

Dr Tiller was shot in both arms by an anti-abortion activist in 1993 and was frequently threatened with violence.

Abortions were declared legal by the Supreme Court in its landmark Roe v Wade ruling of 1973, but as the Tilley murder trial proves, the issue remains profoundly divisive. "This is so much more than just a murder in Wichita," said Gloria Allred, a prominent women's rights lawyer, told The New York Times.

Suggested Topics
News
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvDownton Abbey review: It's six months since we last caught up with the Crawley clan
Sport
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
people
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
Sport
Greg Dyke insists he will not resign as Football Association chairman after receiving a watch worth more than £16,000 but has called for an end to the culture of gifts being given to football officials
football
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
Sport
premier league
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Sport
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
News
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
News
i100
News
i100
Sport
Plenty to ponder: Amir Khan has had repeated problems with US immigration because of his Muslim faith and now American television may shun him
boxing
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Service Delivery Manager - Software Company

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Service Delivery Manager Kingston Up...

Year 3 Teacher

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Year 3 Primary Teacher in HullA f...

Drama Teacher - Hull and Grimsby

Negotiable: Randstad Education Hull: The JobRandstad are currently in need of ...

Reception Teacher

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Randstad Education is the UK mark...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments