KANSAS CITY — When Wichita abortion doctor George Tiller stood trial in March on charges he violated state law in providing late-term abortions, the man now accused of killing him made a point of attending the hearings.
And after Tiller was acquitted on charges that he had failed to properly justify late-term abortions, the suspect, Scott Roeder, told a fellow anti-abortion activist that the whole process was a "sham."
"He seemed to be passionate about that,” said Eugene Frye, a Kansas City area anti-abortion activist for the past three decades. "He felt justice had not been served."
Now, Roeder will face his own charges inside the same courthouse. Prosecutors say the 51-year-old man from a Kansas City suburb walked into Tiller’s church Sunday morning while the doctor was serving as an usher and shot him once in the face.
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District Attorney Nola Foulston said Roeder was charged Tuesday with first-degree murder, not capital murder, because Tiller’s killing didn’t meet any of the criteria required in Kansas. Capital murder charges allow for the death penalty; first-degree murder can carry a life sentence.
"Under the facts and circumstances that are known at this time, the election has been to go with a first-degree murder,” Foulston said.
Roeder apparently kept track of the state prosecution against Tiller through a senior member of Operation Rescue, the anti-abortion organization.
At the time of Roeder’s arrest Sunday afternoon along Interstate 35 in Johnson County, a television station captured the vehicle on video. There on the dashboard was a note that read “Cheryl” and “Op Rescue” with a phone number.
Cheryl Sullenger, senior policy adviser for Operation Rescue out of Wichita, said Tuesday that she has spoken to Roeder in the past, but she said he would initiate the contact. She said she hasn’t had any recent contact with him.
Sullenger served about two years in prison after pleading guilty to conspiring to bomb an abortion clinic in California in 1988. She has since renounced violent action.
She said Roeder’s interest was in court hearings involving Tiller.
“He would call and say, ‘When does court start? When’s the next hearing?’ ” Sullenger said. “I was polite enough to give him the information. I had no reason not to. Who knew? Who knew, you know what I mean?”
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