The man who seven years ago ambushed and fatally shot one of the few U.S. doctors performing late-term abortions was given a more lenient sentence Wednesday of at least 25 years in prison before becoming eligible for parole.
At a surprise resentencing hearing, prosecutors withdrew their request that Scott Roeder serve at least 50 years before parole eligibility. Roeder also was sentenced to an additional two years for aggravated assault for threatening two church ushers as he fled.
Roeder was convicted in January 2010 of premeditated first-degree murder for killing Dr. George Tiller. On May 31, 2009, Roeder shot Tiller in a Wichita church foyer as the doctor served as an usher.
Tiller’s murder was among the most notorious acts of violence against abortion providers since the U.S. Supreme Court legalized the procedure nationwide in 1973. It alarmed the abortion rights community and came as numerous conservative states, including Kansas, passed restrictions making it harder for women to obtain abortions.
The hearing Wednesday came just days before Roeder was set to go before a jury on Monday for what had been anticipated to be a two-week sentencing hearing. Roeder’s original life sentence with no chance of parole for 50 years was among many vacated after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2013 that juries, not judges, must decide whether to increase punishment.
Roeder, who looked much thinner than at his initial sentencing in 2010, was subdued throughout the proceeding and chose not make a courtroom statement before the judge pronounced his sentence.
That was in contrast to the previous sentencing hearing that Roeder used as a forum to espouse at length on his anti-abortion views in an effort to justify his killing the doctor to save unborn babies.
Sedgwick County Dist. Atty. Marc Bennett said that the decision not to seek the added time was reached by prosecutors after examining the 58-year-old Roeder’s health, his expected life span and the likelihood of whether he would ever be released from prison alive. He did not elaborate on Roeder’s health issues. Tiller’s family was also consulted, he said.