“At this time, we hope that George can be remembered for his legacy of service to women (and) the help he provided for those who needed it and the love and happiness he provided us as a husband, father and grandfather.” – Statement on behalf of Jeanne Tiller, Dr. Tiller’s wife
This past Friday, a Kansas jury convicted Scott Roeder of first degree murder in the killing of Dr. George Tiller. I was happy to learn that it only took jurors 37 minutes to find Roeder guilty. He was also convicted of two counts of aggravated assault for pointing his gun at two church members. This verdict is important because it sends the message that a difference of beliefs is never a justifiable reason for murder. Cecile Richards, President of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, issued a statement affirming support for Roeder’s conviction. She said, “Doctors who perform abortions deserve and must receive the full protection of the law. To that end, we are gratified that Judge Warren Wilbert prohibited the argument that Scott Roeder’s deeply felt anti-abortion beliefs made him less culpable for Dr. Tiller’s murder, therefore not allowing the jury to consider the lesser charge of manslaughter.” Family Planning Advocates of NYS President,Tracey Brooks, said the “conviction reinforces the strongly held American value that violence is never the solution to our differences."
Roeder’s trial began on January 22, which was also the 37th anniversary of Roe. V. Wade. Before the trial had even started, Roeder publicly admitted to shooting Dr. Tiller at his church on May 31st. During the trial, Scott Roeder also admitted he had planned to kill Dr. Tiller for many years and had even taken a gun to Tiller’s church before. Roeder argued that his reason for committing the murder was to “halt the death of babies”. This chilling “reason” made Judge Wilbert publicly admit the importance of keeping the issue of abortion, and even the word itself, out of the courtroom. From what was reported from the trial, it seemed that he did a great job at doing just that.
Judge Wilbert originally considered giving jurors the option of convicting Roeder of voluntary manslaughter, which is defined as "an unreasonable but honest belief that circumstances existed that justified deadly force" under Kansas statute. If convicted for voluntary manslaughter, Roeder would have only received a sentence of around five years, as opposed to a possible life sentence if convicted of first-degree murder. The possible use of this defense worried me that a conviction of voluntary manslaughter would have negatively opened the doors for many other killings of this nature. However, as hoped for, Judge Wilbert rejected this defense.
Although I am relieved that justice has been served in this trial, it is impossible to forget the loss of Dr. George Tiller. His bravery to continue working despite numerous attempts on his life and threats to his practice showed his dedication and commitment to helping women. Tiller is the fourth abortion doctor to be killed in the United States since 1993. While I applaud the jury for their fair and honest conviction, it is impossible to overlook the fact that the issue of protecting abortion providers is still far from being resolved.