WICHITA, Kan. — The man charged with murdering a high-profile abortion doctor claimed from his jail cell on Sunday that similar violence was planned around the nation for as long as the procedure remained legal, a threat that comes days after a federal investigation launched into his possible accomplices.
A Justice Department spokesman said the threat was being taken seriously and additional protection had been ordered for abortion clinics last week. But a leader of the anti-abortion movement derided the accused shooter as "a fruit and a lunatic."
Scott Roeder called The Associated Press from the Sedgwick County jail, where he's being held on charges of first-degree murder and aggravated assault in the shooting of Dr. George Tiller one week ago.
"I know there are many other similar events planned around the country as long as abortion remains legal," Roeder said. When asked by the AP what he meant and if he was referring to another shooting, he refused to elaborate further.
Is he credible?
It wasn't clear whether Roeder knew of any impending violence or whether he was simply seeking publicity for his cause. Law enforcement authorities including the Justice Department said they didn't know whether the threat was credible.
Tiller's clinic in Wichita was among only a few in the U.S. that perform third-trimester abortions. He was shot while serving as an usher at the Lutheran church he attended.
Asked if he shot Tiller, Roeder replied that he could not comment about that and said he needed to clear everything with his lawyer.
Justice Department spokesman Matthew Miller said in a written statement Sunday that "we take this matter seriously, which is why the attorney general ordered increased protection of appropriate people and facilities last week."
Tiller's clinic had been a target of regular demonstrations by abortion opponents. Most were peaceful, but his clinic was bombed in 1986, and he was shot in both arms in 1993. In 1991, a 45-day "Summer of Mercy" campaign organized by Operation Rescue drew thousands of abortion opponents to Wichita, and there were more than 2,700 arrests.
Civil rights investigation
The Justice Department opened an investigation Friday to see if the gunman who killed Tiller had accomplices. The Justice Department said its Civil Rights Division and the U.S. attorney's office in Kansas will investigate whether the killing violated a 1994 law creating criminal penalties for violent or damaging conduct toward abortion providers and their patients.
An attorney for the Tiller family, Dan Monnat, said he wasn't sure they should be dignifying Roeder's actions and threats with a response "every time he makes a hare-brained phone call."
"I am hopeful that state and federal authorities, including Homeland Security, will give Mr. Roeder and his information a deserving response," Monnat said, declining to elaborate.
Nancy Keenan president of NARAL-Pro-Choice America, said Roeder's comments "continue to escalate that kind of activity, that kind of violence. Quite honestly, I think it's imperative for anti-choice groups to tone down that rhetoric and keep the more extreme elements in their movement from copying Scott Roeder."
Abortion opponents denounce Roeder
A funeral was held Saturday for Tiller. Most anti-abortion groups avoided the service, having denounced Tiller's shooting.
Troy Newman, president of the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, read about Roeder's statement and e-mailed The Associated Press, saying: "This guy is a fruit and a lunatic."
Roeder, a 51-year-old abortion opponent, was arrested a few hours after the shooting just outside Kansas City.
He told the AP he refused to talk to investigators when he was arrested and has made no statements to police since then.
"I just told them I needed to talk to my lawyer," Roeder said.
Complaining about jail conditions
In two separate calls to AP on Sunday morning, Roeder was far more talkative about his treatment at the Sedgwick County jail, complaining about "deplorable conditions in solitary" where he was kept during his first three days there.
Sedgwick County Sheriff Robert Hinshaw said that Roeder is receiving appropriate medical treatment.
"It is, after all, a jail, but a modern state-of-the-art facility with professional staff," Hinshaw said. "While Mr. Roeder may not care for being in the Sedgwick County jail, all of our conditions and policies are designed to provide safety and security for all inmates, staff and public at large."
Roeder said it was freezing in his cell. "I started having a bad cough. I thought I was going to have pneumonia," he said.
He said he called AP because he wanted to emphasize the conditions in the jail so that in the future, suspects would not have to endure the same conditions.
Roeder also said he wanted the public to know he has been denied phone privileges for the past two days and needed his sleep apnea machine.
Hinshaw disputed that phone privileges had been denied.