Kan. Supreme Court Will Hear Appeal for Pro-Life Activist Who Killed Late-Term Abortionist George Tiller

2 photos(Photo: Reuters/Wichita Police/Handout)Scott Roeder, 51-year-old Kansas City-area man charged with murder of Kansas late-term abortionist George Tiller, is seen in this undated booking photograph released to Reuters on June 12, 2009.

The Kansas Supreme Court will hear the appeal of Scott Roeder, the man convicted of first-degree murder for killing a late-term abortionist, later this month.

"I stopped him so he could not dismember another helpless, innocent baby, Roeder said in 2010, before District Judge Warren Wilbert sentenced him to life in prison without parole for 50 years. The controversial case was reopened this month when the Kansas Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments in an appeal.

Roeder's appeal hearing is scheduled for Jan. 29, and the court has set aside 30 minutes for it, The Associate Press reported Thursday. Roeder shot abortionist George Tiller in May 2009 at a church in Wichita, Kan. Tiller was one of a very few abortionists known to carry out the procedure during the last weeks of pregnancy.

The state Supreme Court has been presented with many issues to consider on appeal, from Roeder's court-appointed attorney and from pro-life activists, The Winfield Courier reported. The defendant's attorneys argued that Roeder should be found guilty of voluntary manslaughter due to his honest belief that he was saving the lives of unborn children by killing the abortionist. Although Wilbert allowed Roeder to testify to this belief in court, he did not let the jury consider the lesser charge after hearing all the evidence.

Kansas state law defines voluntary manslaughter as "an unreasonable but honest belief that circumstances existed that justified deadly force."

The appeal also questions Wilbert's decision to restrict and limit Roeder's courtroom statement at sentencing, whether the trial should have been moved to a city less divided on the abortion issue, and whether the jury should have been given the option of convicting Roeder of intentional second-degree murder. It also brings into doubt the constitutionality of Kansas' "Hard 50" sentencing law, which allows for a sentence of 50 years without parole.

Roeder's sentence was also issued by a judge – a procedure changed in September when a U.S. Supreme Court ruling held that such prison sentences can only be imposed by juries. This case is one of many appeals challenging the stance of Kansas' attorney general that previous sentences should still apply.

The case has also divided those in the pro-life movement, as the defendant blames the legal system for George Tiller's death. "It is the duty of the state of Kansas to protect all of the people, including those whom George Tiller killed," Roeder argued in his statement. "Had the courts acted rightfully, I would not have shot George Tiller."

Nevertheless, Dr. Richard Land, then-president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, denounced Tiller's killing as "unbiblical, unchristian and un-American." Now president of Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte, N.C., Land, who's also executive editor of The Christian Post, added, "Murdering someone is a grotesque and bizarre way to emphasize one's commitment to the sanctity of human life."

Some pro-life activists, however, continue to defend Roeder's actions. "Scott longs to be a law-abiding citizen," Dave Leach, a Des Moines anti-abortion activist, told the AP. "He hates anarchy. He wants to do what he can to make America better."

At the time of his death, Tiller was under investigation by the Kansas State Board of Healing Arts for 11 petition allegations against him. Roeder shot him at point-blank range in Wichita's Reformation Lutheran Church, and assaulted two ushers who confronted him afterward.

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