As he prepares for a court hearing Tuesday, Scott Roeder, the man accused of shooting Dr. George Tiller in the foyer of his church in June, says he’s full of “relief and joy” over the murder of the Wichita abortion provider. In interviews with the Kansas City Star, Roeder, who is in a Sedgwick County, Kansas, lockup, said he’d been thinking about killing abortion doctors since 1992. He praised Paul Hill, who shot and killed an abortion provider in Pensacola, Florida, in 1994 and was executed for the murder in 2003, and he described several visits to Shelley Shannon, the woman who shot and wounded Tiller back in 1993 and is currently serving 20 years for a series of abortion clinic bombings and arsons.
Roeder believes that these acts qualify as justifiable homicide, explaining to Star reporter Judy Thomas: “When a policeman shoots somebody on the street, for example, and stops somebody from taking the life of innocent people, that’s violence, and everybody’s fine with that,” he said. Since the murder of Dr. Tiller, he said, “I’ve heard that three women have actually changed their minds and had their babies because there’s no availability here,” he said. “Wichita has been abortion-free since that time.” He added, “That’s total elation.”
Scott Roeder stops short of stating that he is the man responsible for what he considers the heroic act of killing Dr. Tiller, instead saying that “For the man accused of this, things fell together for that day,” and the shooting “would have been earlier if things had panned out.” Such almost coyly circumspect statements can hardly help Roeder’s case, and his attorney, Steve Osburn, would make no comment on his client’s defense strategy. But Roeder himself raised the possibility of introducing “jury nullification,” which holds that if a jury concludes the law is wrong, it can take matters into its own hands, overriding instructions from the judge, to deliver its own version of justice.
The concept of jury nullification has a long history in the United States and has been advocated by everyone from abolitionists to anti-prohibitionists. But its main proponents in recent decades have been on the far right, which has very different goals in mind. Up through the Civil Rights era, white juries in the South refused to convict Klansmen who killed blacks. And during the 1980s, jury nullification was promoted by far right racialist groups in Kansas and elsewhere in the heartland, in particular the Posse Comitatus. These groups viewed jury nullification as part of what they considered a range of direct democracy actions that could serve as an antidote to the ZOG (Zionist Occupied Government). They saw such institutions as the jury and the sheriff’s posse as the instruments to promote the return of an Anglo-Saxon male sovereignty. Along with Jews and people of color, the Posse believed judges to be a major stumbling block and repeatedly urged sheriffs to arrest and hang them. Threats against judges became a serious matter and on occasion they were provided special bodyguards. Roeder himself was involved in the 1990s with the Freemen, the far right militia group that subscribes to many of these same beliefs.
Roeder wouldn’t say for sure that he would raise jury nullification in his own case, but told the Star, “I will try and educate the jury without bringing up the term ‘jury nullification.’” While it seems like a long shot, he only needs to convince one in twelve in order to achieve a hung jury. And if he can find a sympathetic jury anywhere, it will be in Kansas, where the anti-abortion movement has long been a major force.
Since the Tiller shooting, anti-abortion and Christian fundamentalist groups have been scrambling to distance themselves from Roeder and paint him as an extremist who has nothing in common with them (though they can seldom resist making the point that abortion is murder, too). A local policy advisor for Operation Rescue admits she helped Roeder track Dr. Tiller’s movements, but says she had no idea of Roeder’s plans to kill the abortion provider. (“I was polite enough to give him the information. I had no reason not to. Who knew? Who knew, you know what I mean?”) Roeder himself says he had plenty of contact with local OR activists and contributed money to the group. As the Star reports:
Roeder said he was upset at the president of Operation Rescue, Troy Newman, who had condemned the killing and said his organization had nothing to do with Roeder. “He said that I never was a member and I never contributed any money,” Roeder said. “Well, my gosh, I’ve got probably a thousand dollars worth of receipts, at least, from the money I’ve donated to him.”
Roeder said he wrote Newman a letter from jail. “I told him, ‘You better get your story straight because my lawyer said it’d be good for me to show that I was supporting a pro-life organization.’”
Newman said Friday he didn’t believe Roeder gave money to his group. “We have a database, but I haven’t been able to find him in the database,” he said. “If he did (donate), we have probably over the past 10 years over 50,000 people who have contributed to us.”
Roeder also has the advantage of being tried by the state of Kansas. While it may have no sympathy for murderers, the state justice system has historically shown sympathy toward the anti-abortion cause. In fact, the state gave Dr. George Tiller almost as much grief as the right-to-lifers did, and seems to have spent more energy prosecuting him on trumped up charges than they did protecting him against attacks and threats.
The Feds, for their part, usually chose not to get involved in protecting Tiller and his clinic even after repeated acts of vandalism, bombings, and the previous shooting. They also chose not to take action against Scott Roeder in the days leading up to the murder, despite the fact that he had a previous conviction for possessing explosive devices and once held a place on the FBI’s list of Freemen members. As summarized by RH Reality Check:
In the week before the shooting of Dr. Tiller, Roeder attempted to obstruct access to a clinic by gluing its locks. Clinic vandalism is also illegal and considered a federal crime under FACE. The manager of a Kansas City abortion clinic told Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! that he called the FBI a week before the shooting to report that Roeder had been caught on tape vandalizing the clinic. According to the manager, an FBI agent didn’t act, saying that the video was probably too blurry to get a conviction and that the manger had contaminated the DNA evidence by touching the lock. The manager said he went out and bought a brand new color video camera. The day before the shooting he called the FBI again to say that a nurse had caught Roeder in the act, even copying down his license plate number: 225 BAB. The FBI still didn’t act. The next day, Roeder drove to the Reformation Lutheran Church and shot George Tiller in the face.
The U.S. Justice Department says it is investigating the Tiller killing, but it has yet to file any charges. And it has shown little interest in pursuing the matter as a case of domestic terrorism, though it has prosecuted both Islamic extremists and non-violent animal rights activists as terrorists on what would seem to be far shakier grounds.
Currently Roeder is being held–and faces his hearing tomorrow–on state murder charges. He says he knows he may spend most of his life in prison. “I suppose, if it’s 25 to life … I’ll be around 71 or 72 years old if I was to be let out on parole. A lot of people still have a lot of life left at that age.”