Wichita, Kan. (AP) - Jurors must decide whether a man who openly confessed to killing a Kansas abortion provider committed murder now that defense attorneys have lost their bid for a lesser charge based on the man's belief that he was saving unborn children.
Scott Roeder's lawyers failed to show that Dr. George Tiller posed an imminent threat and therefore will not be allowed to ask jurors to consider a voluntary manslaughter charge, District Judge Warren Wilbert ruled Thursday. Wilbert also noted abortion is legal in Kansas.
Voluntary manslaughter required the defense to show Roeder had an unreasonable but honest belief that deadly force was justified.
Jurors return to the courtroom Friday to hear closing arguments and jury instructions before beginning deliberations.
Wilbert also refused to allow them to consider a second-degree murder conviction, which does not involve premeditation, because the evidence -- and Roeder's own testimony -- clearly showed Roeder planned the shooting.
His courtroom confession capped four days of prosecution testimony that left no doubt Roeder gunned down Tiller in the foyer of his Wichita church on May 31. Roeder, 51, of Kansas City, Mo., is charged with premeditated, first-degree murder and two counts of aggravated assault for threatening two ushers who tried to stop him after the shooting.
"I did what I thought was needed to be done to protect the children," Roeder said. "I shot him."
Roeder testified he told no one of his plans and targeted only Tiller. But he acknowledged talking mostly to "like-minded" people about his belief, which he began to hold in the late 1990s, that killing abortion providers was justified.
If convicted of first-degree murder, Roeder faces a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment with the possibility of parole after 25 years. Prosecutors could later ask the judge to impose a so-called "Hard 50" sentence, which would require he serve at least 50 years before he can be considered for parole.
Roeder was the sole defense witness after the judge barred testimony from two state prosecutors whom the defense subpoenaed in a futile bid to show Roeder believed Tiller was performing unlawful abortions and was frustrated charges against the doctor had been dismissed in one case. Jurors in the other case acquitted the doctor.
Roeder testified that he considered elaborate schemes to stop the doctor, 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 told jurors.
Roeder testified he went to Reformation Lutheran Church on three other occasions to kill Tiller: once the evening before and once the week before Tiller was shot, and once in 2008, but Tiller was not at the church on those occasions.
The ruling prohibiting jurors from considering lesser offenses dismayed Andrew Beacham, a Falls Church, Va., man who came to watch the proceedings.
"The very thing (the judge) is attempting to suppress, vigilantism, ... he is actually promoting it by not allowing Scott to have a fair trial," Beacham said.
Kathy Spillar, executive vice president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, said after Roeder's testimony that the prosecutor's questioning showed Roeder was talking to people about justifiable homicide of abortion doctors -- an admission she hopes opens the door to a federal investigation and prosecution of any others who might be involved.
Associated Press Writer Roxana Hegeman contributed to this report.