WICHITA, Kan. — An activist abortion opponent was charged Tuesday with first-degree murder in the death of late-term abortion provider George Tiller, and the prosecutor said the evidence in the case ruled out the death penalty.
Scott Roeder, 51, was shown via a video link from the Sedgwick County Jail. He fiddled with the charging documents on a podium in front of him, and said "OK" three times as Judge Ben Burgess read the charges and explained the court process.
Burgess ordered Roeder to be held without bond and said he was not allowed to communicate with Tiller's family or two witnesses he is suspected of having assaulted. The judge told Roeder that he would be assigned a public defender.
"And I'll obviously be hearing from one of those lawyers between now — or do you know how long it will be before I hear from one of those lawyers?" Roeder said.
Within two days, the judge answered to Roeder's only question in the brief appearance. A preliminary hearing is set for June 16.
Attorney Mark Orr with the Sedgwick County public defender's office said it had just been the assigned the case and had not had a chance to talk to Roeder yet.
If convicted on the murder charge, Roeder would face a mandatory life sentence and would not be eligible for parole for at least 25 years.
Sedgwick County District Attorney Nola Foulston would not release any details of the crime at a news conference after the hearing, but said evidence against Roeder ruled out the death penalty.
Kansas law requires that special circumstances exist for a defendant to be eligible for the death penalty. Such circumstances include murder for hire or the killing of a law officer, more than one person, or a victim kidnapped for ransom or rape.
In March, Roeder attended at least one day of Tiller's trial on misdemeanor counts, Operation Rescue president Troy Newman said Tuesday. Tiller was acquitted on 19 counts of failing to obtain a second, independent opinion before performing late-term abortions.
Roeder wore an anti-abortion T-shirt, which a court officer had him cover up.
"He was some guy on the fringe," Newman said. "Nobody knew him all that well other than his name."
Roeder is accused of shooting Tiller to death Sunday at the doctor's Lutheran church in Wichita as he was serving as an usher. Roeder also was charged with aggravated assault for on suspicion of threatening two people who tried to stop him.
Roeder was arrested about three hours after the shooting near Gardner, about 170 miles northeast of Wichita. His last known address is in Kansas City, Mo.
Roeder's family life began unraveling more than a decade ago when he got involved with anti-government groups, his former wife, Lindsey Roeder, said.
"The anti-tax stuff came first, and then it grew and grew. He became very anti-abortion," said Lindsey Roeder, who was married to Scott Roeder for 10 years but "strongly disagrees with his beliefs." They divorced in 1996 and have one son, now 22.
Roeder's brother, David, also said he suffered from mental illness at various times in his life.
Someone using the name Scott Roeder posted comments about Tiller on anti-abortion Web sites, including one that referred to the doctor as the "concentration camp Mengele of our day" — a reference to the Nazi doctor who performed ghastly medical experiments on Jews and others at Auschwitz. The posting said Tiller "needs to be stopped before he and those who protect him bring judgment upon our nation."
Tiller's death has focused attention on the availability of third-trimester abortions, as the few remaining providers age with little interest from new doctors to offer such services.
Tiller's family said there were no plans yet to reopen his Wichita clinic, despite earlier comments from LeRoy Carhart, one of four physicians who worked at the clinic.
Funeral services for Tiller are planned for 10 a.m. Saturday at College Hill United Methodist Church in Wichita.