Scott Roeder, the antiabortion extremist who murdered George Tiller, one of a handful of American physicians who performed late-term abortions, was sentenced to life in prison in a Wichita, Kan., courtroom Thursday and will not be eligible for parole for more than 50 years.
“The blood of babies is on your hands!” he yelled at prosecutors as bailiffs led him from the courtroom.
A former airport shuttle driver who was once arrested with bomb-making materials in his car, Roeder, 52, was convicted Jan. 29 of premeditated murder for shooting Tiller point-blank in the forehead during a Sunday service on May 31 as the doctor stood in the vestibule of his Wichita church.
Sedgwick County District Judge Warren Wilbert could have allowed Roeder to come up for parole after 25 years but gave him the harsher sentence because he shot Tiller in church and stalked him for years before.
Roeder was also sentenced to 24 consecutive months on two counts of aggravated assault for threatening to kill two church ushers who tried to stop him as he fled Reformation Lutheran Church after the shooting.
As Tiller’s wife, Jeanne, and their four adult children looked on, an unrepentant Roeder addressed the court for more than 40 minutes in a rambling statement that was part defense of his action, part primer on abortion techniques and part sermon about the difference between God’s laws and man’s.
Toward the end of the day, he repeatedly interrupted the judge with small outbursts equating abortion to murder.
“It is no secret that George Tiller killed unborn babies for a living,” Roeder said. “He did this with the blessing of the highest laws of our land. If I were allowed to display pictures of aborted babies as you allowed [pictures of] George Tiller lying in a pool of blood, some of the jury might have been persuaded to find me innocent of murder.”
The judge stopped Roeder’s speech when he veered into politics, criticizing the prosecutor, Sedgwick County Dist. Atty. Nola Foulston.
“I was told by my counsel that I could say anything,” Roeder said.
“It is not a forum for you to get on a soapbox and give your entire political beliefs,” said Wilbert, who became increasingly impatient with Roeder. “I am not going to allow what I view as an attempted character assassination of Nola Foulston.”
Roeder, Wilbert said, was to address only why he should receive a shorter sentence.
Earlier, the prosecutor, Roeder’s defense attorney, a Tiller family representative and several of Roeder’s friends gave statements about whether Roeder should be eligible for parole after 25 or 50 years of his life sentence.
Prosecutors and the Tiller family called Roeder a terrorist; Roeder’s friends called him a hero who acted on principle.
“This is a significantly dangerous man,” Foulston said.
Four of Roeder’s friends from the antiabortion movement asked the judge for leniency, describing Roeder as a kind person who acted to save the lives of “the unborn.”
Regina Dinwiddie, a nurse in Kansas City, Kan., described Roeder as “a very loving and compassionate man who only had feelings for those other than himself.”
George Hough, a clinical psychologist who evaluated Roeder for the defense, testified that Roeder was not psychologically impaired when he chose to kill Tiller, but was motivated by a strongly held religious belief.
Hough said that beginning in his late 20s, Roeder had “moved increasingly in the direction of radical religion, Christianity,” and became “obsessed” with taxes, license plate laws and “the true intentions of the framers.”
After 1992, Hough said, Roeder began to “obsessively seize” on abortion and “felt an increasing need to take action,” which culminated in the murder of Tiller.
Tiller’s relatives listened calmly as Roeder described their place of worship as a “synagogue of Satan” for allowing Tiller to belong. “Who else would embrace a mass murderer in their midst?” he asked.
Tiller’s longtime attorney, Lee Thompson, spoke for the family. He said they considered the murder a hate crime.
“George Tiller was shot in the face while serving as an usher at his church,” Thompson said. “Why? Because he performed constitutionally protected legal medical services for women. . . . It’s as morally repugnant as any hate crime.”
Thompson described Tiller as a dedicated family man who defended the rights of women and believed in the rule of law. Tiller, Thompson said, “practiced medicine as he lived his life, with care and compassion.” When one of his daughters became a physician, Thompson said, Tiller advised her to “always touch a patient gently.”
Tiller was the fourth abortion provider and the eighth person connected to an abortion clinic to be killed for their work since 1993.
“It has been nearly a year since Dr. Tiller’s murder, yet no federal charges have been brought,” said Katherine Spillar of the Feminist Majority Foundation, which has urged the government to look closely at ties among abortion foes who advocate violence. “It’s hard to believe that he acted entirely alone.”
Tiller’s death left a void in the small community of doctors who perform late-term abortions, which account for a tiny percentage of the estimated 1.2 million abortions each year in the U.S. His relatives announced in June that they would close his Wichita clinic, Women’s Health Care Services.
Before he was slain, Tiller had been subjected to repeated acts of violence as well as criminal investigations initiated by an antiabortion state attorney general. Tiller was acquitted in March 2009 of breaking Kansas abortion law.