WICHITA, KAN. — Prosecutors on Tuesday formally charged Scott Roeder, a 51-year-old with ties to right-wing militia groups, with murder for allegedly killing prominent abortion doctor George Tiller.
The charge carries a maximum sentence of life in prison because the crime does not meet Kansas' legal requirements for the death penalty, Sedgwick County Dist. Atty. Nola Foulston said at an afternoon news conference. Tiller, 67, was gunned down Sunday as he served as an usher at his church here.
Kansas law requires multiple killings, the slaying of a law enforcement officer or other circumstances before the death penalty can be sought, Foulston said. "Having tried several death penalty cases, this is a standard review under Kansas law," she said.
Roeder made a brief court appearance via video camera Tuesday afternoon. Shackled and dressed in a jail-issued red jumpsuit, Roeder stood at a lectern and flipped through a copy of the charges, swaying back and forth on his feet.
He answered "OK" when Judge Ben Burgess read through the charges, which include two counts of aggravated assault for allegedly brandishing his gun at two other churchgoers who tried to stop him. Burgess said a restraining order was now in place to keep Roeder from making contact with those two men.
Roeder filed papers to be represented by the Sedgwick County Public Defender's Office. "Do you know how long it'll be before I hear from one of those lawyers?" Roeder asked.
Burgess told him a public defender would be assigned within a couple of days. He set the next court appearance, at which Roeder is expected to enter a plea, for June 16.
Tiller, one of the few remaining doctors in the nation to perform late-term abortions, had survived a previous assassination attempt and his clinic was bombed.
Mainstream groups and many religious leaders opposed to abortion rights have strongly condemned Tiller's killing. But local abortion foes said Roeder agreed with a small school of activists who believe in killing abortion providers to save unborn lives.
Tiller's clinic has been closed since the shooting. A Nebraska physician who has worked there regularly told the Wichita Eagle on Monday that it would resume offering abortions next week. But the attorney representing Tiller's family said on Tuesday that the clinic's fate was undecided.
"The family's hope is that the valuable work of Dr. Tiller will be able to continue, but there have been no final decisions made about the long-term plans for the medical practice," Dan Monnat said in a statement. "There is currently no plan to immediately reopen the clinic, and no patients are being scheduled at this time. The Tiller family's focus, of course, is to determine what is in the best interests of the employees and the patients."