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Gunman killed abortion doctor 'to save lives'

January 29, 2010

In an impassioned plea before a US court, a born-again Christian argued that he had killed a prominent abortion doctor because he wanted to save the lives of unborn babies.

"I did what I thought needed to be done to protect the children. I shot him," Scott Roeder told the jury. "If I didn't do it the babies were going to die the next day."

Roeder, 51, has pleaded not guilty to a charge of first-degree murder in the May 2009 slaying of Doctor George Tiller in the foyer of a Kansas church.

In a move that critics feared could provide cover for political violence, Roeder sought to convince jurors he was guilty only of voluntary manslaughter.

Under Kansas law, voluntary manslaughter can apply when actions are taken based on an unreasonable but honest defense that he or she is preventing a greater harm.

But District Judge Warren Wilbert ruled at the end of testimony that he would not allow jurors to consider the lesser offense.

Vicki Saporto, president of the pro-choice National Abortion Federation, said her reaction to Wilbert's ruling was "relief."

A voluntary manslaughter verdict "would have been a tragedy and put the safety and security of abortion providers everywhere at risk."

"We can't settle political differences in this country by murdering each other," Saporto added.

David Leach, an abortion opponent who helped Roeder filed a 104-page brief in the case, said the judge's interpretation of the law "makes it impossible to save lives."

In his testimony, Roeder did not dispute any of the evidence brought against him by prosecutors. He admitted he bought a gun and ammunition, and took target practice in the days prior to Tiller's shooting.

He said he had thought about killing Tiller for years, even considering buying a sword to cut off his hands or hiding out like a sniper to shoot him walking into his Wichita, Kansas abortion clinic.

Roeder also acknowledged having carried a gun into Tiller's church on at least two occasions prior to May 31 and said he had considered killing other abortion doctors but that Tiller was his only "target."

Tiller was one of only a handful of doctors in the United States to perform late-term abortions, which earned him the wrath of pro-life activists who had dubbed him "Tiller the baby killer."

Roeder said he was spurred into action after realizing that nothing else was going to stop Tiller from performing abortions.

He said he had tried "sidewalk counseling" with women visiting Tiller's Wichita, Kansas clinic to persuade them to seek an alternative to abortion and he noted that previous attacks on Tiller and his clinic -- including a shooting and a bombing -- had failed to stop the doctor practicing.

Roeder said he had also known that former Kansas attorney general Phill Kline, an abortion opponent, had unsuccessfully sought to prosecute Tiller.

Asked by his defense attorney to testify about his knowledge of abortion, Roeder said one method involved "tearing a baby limb from limb," a description that prompted an objection from prosecutors and prompted the judge to instruct jurors to ignore it.

Asked if he regretted his actions, Roeder said "No, I don't."

Roeder said he had attended church with his family when he was younger, but did not consider himself religious until he had a conversion experience while watching the "700 Club" on television in 1992.

The popular show, hosted by Pat Robertson, airs on the Christian Broadcasting Network.

"I was alone in my room," Roeder said. "That day I did kneel down and accept Christ as my savior at that time."

After that, his views on abortion, which he had always considered wrong, became stronger, he said.

In his opening statement to the jury, defense attorney Steve Osburn said his client believed the church was the best place to kill Tiller, who often employed personal security measures, without hurting anyone else.

"He killed Dr. Tiller because that was the only way to save the lives of the unborn," Osburn said. "These were honestly held beliefs and he had no choice."

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