Suspect in abortion doctor’s death charged with 1st-degree murder
WRITETHRU (EDITORS: Updates with changes throughout.)
(PHOTOS) (HAS TRIMS)
By Ron Sylvester and Joe Rodriguez
WICHITA, Kan. — Scott P. Roeder stood in the county jail Tuesday to hear the charges against him: first-degree premeditated murder and aggravated assault.
Wearing shackles and a red jail jumpsuit, Roeder listened via a closed-circuit television as Sedgwick County District Judge Ben Burgess read the charges, which stemmed from Sunday’s shooting death of Wichita abortion doctor George Tiller.
Roeder, 51, said little except to ask questions about his lawyer. Burgess assigned the case to the public defenders’ office and said a public defender should contact Roeder within 24 hours. He is being held without bond.
Roeder also is charged with two counts of aggravated assault related to two men who had a gun pointed at them after Tiller’s killing in the foyer of the Reformation Lutheran Church, where the doctor and his family attended services.
Burgess ordered Roeder to have no contact with those men or with anyone in the Tiller family.
Roeder’s next court hearing is tentatively set for June 16. Such hearings are often moved to later dates to allow lawyers more time to prepare.
After a preliminary hearing and a judge’s finding of probable cause to send the case to trial, Roeder will enter a plea.
As is routine, Roeder’s first appearance lasted just a few minutes.
Outside the courthouse following the hearing, District Attorney Nola Foulston answered questions about why Roeder didn’t face capital murder charges that might bring the death penalty.
Foulston explained that Kansas law limits which kinds of killings can face the death penalty. Tiller’s killing, she said, didn’t meet any of the criteria required by law.
"Under the facts and circumstances that are known at this time, the election has been to go with a first-degree murder," Foulston said.
First-degree murder can bring a sentence of life imprisonment.
Beyond that, Foulston said little about the case, which has drawn national attention.
Tiller was one of the few doctors in the country who performed late-term abortions and was a central figure in a heated debate over abortion rights.
A jury found Tiller not guilty earlier this spring of 19 misdemeanor charges brought by the Kansas attorney general’s office over his late-term abortion procedures.
Foulston said she’s confident a fair jury can be impaneled here, despite high emotions regarding abortion.
"We have and will continue to have a jury base in our community that is able to listen to evidence and make determination without being influenced from outside sources," she said.
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About 20 people attended Roeder’s hearing.
Willow Eby was one of the few people at the hearing who wasn’t a news reporter. Eby said she worked as a volunteer at Tiller’s clinic for about five years, escorting patients into the clinic.
"I felt it was a sign of respect, that we need to be visible, that they have tried to frighten the doctors, they have tried to frighten clinic workers, they have tried to frighten anybody who would stand up to them," Eby said, referring to abortion opponents.
Eby said the threats didn’t frighten Tiller.
"He always knew there was a target on hio," she said. "That didn’t stop him."
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Also on Tuesday, the office manager of a women’s clinic in Kansas City, Kan., said Roeder matches the description of a man who vandalized the clinic twice in the past month — including the day before Tiller was killed.
Jeffrey Pederson, office manager of the Central Family Medicine clinic, said a man glued the locks shut on the clinic’s doors on May 23 and again on Saturday morning.
Pederson said he filed a police report after both incidents and contacted the FBI, giving them the suspect’s license plate number after Saturday’s incident.
Pederson said a man the clinic staff knew as Scott and matching Roeder’s description had been protesting at the clinic for years.
On Sunday morning, Pederson said, he got a call from Wichita about Tiller’s murder. At 1 p.m., he said he got another call from his Wichita contact who gave him the suspect’s license plate.
"I was just sick," he said. "That was the plate I gave the FBI Saturday. I called the FBI back and said, ’It’s the same car. It’s the same guy.’ "
The FBI declined to comment about the incident.
Kansas City, Kan., police spokesman Michael Golden confirmed that the clinic filed a vandalism report.
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Pederson said the man also glued the clinic’s locks twice in 2000.
"The pictures I had back then were fuzzy, and the FBI said it wasn’t sufficient to prosecute," he said. "I said, ’Here’s his license plate.’ And the FBI says, ’OK, we’ll go talk to him.’ After that, he disappeared for six years."
Pederson said the man showed up at the clinic again around 2006.
"He came every other month, kind of infrequently," he said. "He wouldn’t really hold signs, but he would gab with the regular group."
After the incident Memorial Day weekend, Pederson said, he filed a report with Kansas City, Kan., police and notified the FBI.
Pederson said that last Thursday, he was able to locate the suspect on the surveillance video, "but the pictures were still fuzzy."
He said he called the FBI again and gave them a copy of the video. On Friday, he said, he upgraded his surveillance cameras to a higher resolution.
"And at 5:50 a.m. Saturday, he attempted to glue the back door, but one of my staff was already here," Pederson said. "She chased after him, and he called her a baby killer twice."
He said the employee got the license plate number and called him at home. Pederson said he called the FBI with the information.
Pederson said the incidents were disturbing, but he didn’t expect authorities to make them a priority at the time he reported them.
"Criminal damage is just a misdemeanor," he said.
(McClatchy Newspapers correspondent Judy L. Thomas of The Kansas City Star contributed to this report.)
(c) 2009, The Wichita Eagle (Wichita, Kan.).
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PHOTOS (from MCT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): ABORTION-TILLER