April 2, 2010 — On Thursday, Scott Roeder -- the man convicted of first degree murder in the May 2009 shooting of abortion provider George Tiller -- was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 50 years, Los Angeles Times reports. Roeder, age 52, was convicted Jan. 29, 2010, of premeditated murder after shooting Tiller on May 31, 2009, at the doctor's Wichita, Kan., church. Roeder also was sentenced to 24 consecutive months on two counts of aggravated assault for threatening two church ushers with a gun as they tried to stop him from fleeing the church.
According to the Times, Sedgwick County, Kan., District Judge Warren Wilbert could have issued a life sentence with an opportunity for parole after 25 years but decided on the harsher sentence because Roeder shot Tiller in a church and stalked him for years (Abcarian, Los Angeles Times, 4/2). Prosecutors had requested the harsher sentence, which required them to demonstrate "aggravating circumstances," such as stalking, the AP/WJLA reports. During the trial, Roeder testified that he previously took a gun to the church and surveyed Tiller's clinic and neighborhood.
At Thursday's hearing, Lee Thompson, the Tiller family's longtime attorney, testified that if Roeder did not receive the harshest sentence, it could encourage other antiabortion-rights activists to take violent actions against abortion providers. Thompson said Roeder's actions were "domestic terrorism," adding that the actions "will be repeated by [Roeder] if he ever sees the light of day again." He also said that his office continues to receive calls from women seeking abortion services, adding that the "impact of [Tiller's] death on women throughout the world is like an earthquake" (Hegeman, AP/WJLA, 4/1).
When allowed to speak on his own behalf, Roeder described abortion procedures in detail, which he had been prohibited from doing during the trial. The AP/Boston Globe notes that "most abortions are legal in Kansas, and prosecutors were careful not to turn the trial into a referendum on the issue." Roeder also criticized Wilbert and said God will judge the U.S. to "avenge every drop of innocent blood." After 40 minutes, Wilbert cut off Roeder, who continued to interrupt the judge several times and later shouted antiabortion remarks as he was led from the courtroom.
Tiller Family, Abortion-Rights Groups React to Sentence
The Tiller family said in a statement, "We can only hope that this sentence will serve as a deterrent to those who have conspired and continue to conspire to murder abortion providers." They added, "Certainly, everything possible should be done by the prison system to [e]nsure that this man does not continue to foment hatred and violence from his prison cell" (Hegeman, AP/Boston Globe, 4/2).
The Feminist Majority Foundation has urged the government to examine ties among antiabortion activists who advocate violence against providers. Katherine Spillar, executive vice president of the foundation, said Thursday, "It has been nearly a year since Dr. Tiller's murder, yet no federal charges have been brought," adding, "It's hard to believe that he acted entirely alone."
Tiller was the fourth abortion provider and the eighth person connected to an abortion clinic to be murdered since 1993, the Times reports. Tiller's family decided in June 2009 not to reopen his clinic, and his death has "left a void" among the small number of doctors who perform abortions later in pregnancy, according to the Times (Los Angeles Times, 4/2).
MSNBC's "The Rachel Maddow Show" included two discussions about the sentencing:
~ Julie Burkhart: Burkhart, who directs the Trust Women PAC and worked closely with Tiller for eight years, said Roeder received an appropriate sentence, but it "does not stop the anti-choice terrorism that physicians and staff members face." She added, "With the inflammatory language that is used -- 'baby killer,' 'murderer,' the use of holocaust -- this incites violence, and this is like yelling 'fire' in a crowded theatre" (Maddow , "The Rachel Maddow Show," MSNBC, 4/1).
~ Eugene Robinson: Washington Post columnist and associate editor Robinson said Tiller's murder is a form of "domestic terrorism" that "was designed to frighten and intimidate others from performing legally-protected medical procedures" (Maddow , "The Rachel Maddow Show," MSNBC, 4/1).