WICHITA, Kan. — A man who said he killed prominent Kansas abortion provider George Tiller in order to save the lives of unborn children was convicted Friday of murder.
The jury deliberated for just 37 minutes before finding Scott Roeder, 51, of Kansas City, guilty of first-degree murder in the May 31 shooting death.
He faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison with the possibility of parole after 25 years when he is sentenced March 9. Prosecutor Nola Foulston said she would pursue a "Hard 50" sentence, which would require Roeder to serve at least 50 years before he can be considered for parole.
Tiller's widow, Jeanne, and the rest of the family quickly exited the courtroom after the verdict. In a statement, Jeanne Tiller said "once again, a Sedgwick County jury has reached a just verdict."
The family said it wanted Tiller to be "remembered for his legacy of service to women, the help he provided for those who needed it and the love and happiness he provided us as a husband, father and grandfather."
Roeder had confessed publicly before the trial and admitted again on the witness stand that he shot Tiller in the head in the foyer of the Wichita church where the doctor was serving as an usher. He testified he felt the lives of unborn children were in "immediate danger" because of Tiller.
Roeder sat still as the verdict was read, showing no visible reaction as he moved his head toward the judge and to the jury as each juror confirmed the verdict. He also was convicted of aggravated assault for pointing a gun at two ushers after the shooting.
Roeder's attorneys were hoping to get a lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter for Roeder, a defense that would have required them to show that Roeder had an unreasonable but honest belief that deadly force was justified.
But after hearing Roeder testify, District Judge Warren Wilbert ruled that his lawyers failed to show that Tiller posed an imminent threat and the jury could not consider such a verdict.
Tiller was one of the nation's few providers of late-term abortions, and his Wichita clinic was the focus of many protests. It also had been under investigation by a former state district attorney who accused Tiller of skirting Kansas' abortion laws.
Prosecutors were careful during the first few days of testimony to avoid the subject of abortion and to focus on the specifics of the shooting. Wilbert said he did not want the trial to become a debate on abortion, but he did allow Roeder to discuss his views on the subject because his attorneys said they were integral to their case.
Roeder, the lone defense witness, testified Thursday that he considered elaborate schemes to stop Tiller, including chopping off his hands, crashing a car into him or sneaking into his home to kill him.
But in the end, Roeder told jurors, the easiest way was to walk into Tiller's church, put a gun to the man's forehead and pull the trigger.
"Those children were in immediate danger if someone did not stop George Tiller," Roeder said. "They were going to continue to die."
He testified that he wrapped the .22-caliber handgun in a piece of cloth and buried it in a rural area. The weapon has not been recovered.