Was Justice Served in Roeder Case?
Opinion by Daniel Starling
A painfully slow and sad spectacle played out in a Wichita, Kansas courtroom yesterday as an erratic and remorseless convicted murderer, Scott Roeder, tried to explain the mitigating circumstances surrounding his assassination of abortion provider, Dr. George Tiller, in the vestibule of his Wichita church last year.
All of Roeder’s precise political and moral justifications did not help his cause as Judge Warren Wilbert gave him the maximum sentences under Kansas Law; the Hard 50--50 years before any possibility of parole. Roeder, 52, would be 102 years old before he could be released.
His detailed descriptions of abortion procedures and his anti-government, pro-God protestations reminded me just how much the state of Kansas and its citizens are in need of mental health services. To my mind, Roeder is mentally ill. Anyone watching his sentencing hearing could see his mental illness boiling up just below the surface.
Roeder, convicted of first degree murder and two counts of aggravated assault for his slaying of Dr. Tiller, was hoping to use his sentencing hearing as a soapbox; repeatedly quoting the New and Old Testament, and complete sections from a book by Paul Hill--another abortion provider executioner—to justify his actions.
I have to respectfully disagree with both sides of this prosecution and insist that Scott Roeder is so obviously ill, that he is innocent by reason of insanity. With all due respect to the family of Doctor Tiller, I believe Mr. Roeder’s conviction and sentencing are a grave miscarriage of justice. He belongs in Osawatomie State Mental Hospital, not in prison.
Delusions of grandeur (self-righteous comparisons to Jesus Christ and other Christian martyrs) and deflection of any responsibility (an inability to distinguish right from wrong) were so prevalent that his sentencing was reduced to a public mocking of a shattered mind.
Mr. Roeder—a Merriam, Kansas native-- had a few character witnesses on his behalf—mostly other anti-abortion/pro-life protestors--testifying he was “a good man” that “had gotten a bad rap by the media”. Characterized as “soft spoken” and “affable”, Roeder stammered and stuttered, when not allowed to slander his enemies and finally came totally unglued, screaming about God’s judgment as he was escorted away in cuffs to a life behind bars.
Topeka psychologist George Hough insisted in his testimony that Roeder was not suffering from a mental illness--despite public statements by his family that he was being treated for one. Hough said his examination of Roeder lead him to conclude that he did not suffer from a mental disease under Kansas Law and was fit to stand trial.
Someone needs to check Dr. Hough’s licensing and accreditation. He stumbled through his testimony that Roeder was a “histrionic and narcissistic personality” but that he did not express delusions and that “no personality disorder was evident”. Hough said however that Roeder’s mental state at the time of the crime “substantially impaired his ability to conform his conduct” to the law.
Or as his own attorney stated “The capacity of the defendant to understand his conduct was compromised.” I also believe that his capacity to grasp the consequences of his actions or the realities of his own trial was equally impaired. He was repeatedly admonished for failing to understand trial procedures and the judge’s instructions. He seemed lost and confused once Judge Wilbert told him that it “was not a forum or soapbox for his political beliefs”.
Roeder’s lawyers—both court appointed---should be ashamed for not pursuing an insanity plea; one this writer would have been far more appropriate. It was obvious justice would have been better served if he was deprogrammed and helped to understand the gravity and hypocrisy of his actions. Instead, he will become a martyr to the anti-choice crowd, with years in jail to spew his twisted morality to like-minded pen pals: the latest poster boy for justifiable homicide.
If you disagree with my diagnosis, here are just a few of the low lights from Mr. Roeder’s own disturbed thought processes, in his own words:
“Baby murder is an accepted practice in the state of Kansas.”
“George Tiller was not an innocent person.”
“The blame lies more with the state of Kansas than with me.”
“There is a holocaust in our own backyard.”
“I did kill him. It was not murder.”
“Acquit. You would acquit me if you followed God’s law.”
“Reform Lutheran Church was not a true church of God but a synagogue of Satan.”
“Dr. Tiller is a murderer. I’m not guilty of murder.”
Of course I wouldn’t allow an obviously deranged murderer have the last word.
Lee Thompson, attorney for Dr. George Tiller's family, issued the following statement at the request of Mrs. Jeanne Tiller and the Tiller family following the sentencing.
"The sentence handed down today was appropriate. It is the most severe penalty available to Judge Wilbert under Kansas law. This crime was cruel and heinous not only because it took our husband, father and grandfather; but because it was a hate crime committed against George – but also against all women and their constitutional rights.
We only can hope that this sentence will serve as a deterrent to those who have conspired and continue to conspire to murder abortion providers. Certainly everything possible should be done by the prison system to insure that this man does not continue to foment hatred and violence from his prison cell.
Dr. Tiller’s story is being told every day in the lives of the women he helped. His legacy cannot be diminished by the act of a single terrorist.”
Unfortunately, this story is not over. Roeder will receive an automatic appeal hearing on his first-degree murder conviction and his sentencing. It is a shame both the state’s prosecutors and Roeder’s attorneys couldn’t agree that he was unfit for trial. I am sure Scott Roeder would disagree as well.