A man accused of killing a prominent abortion doctor wordlessly pumped a single gunshot into his victim’s head and threatened two other men before fleeing a Kansas church, witnesses said Monday.
Scott Roeder, 51, is on trial for first-degree murder in the 2009 shooting death of Dr. George Tiller, one of only a handful of doctors who performed legal late-term abortions in the United States.
Gary Hoepner said he was standing with Tiller in the foyer of their Wichita church ahead of Sunday services when Roeder approached.
“I looked up and this man had walked up to George, put a gun to his head and shot him,” Hoepner told jurors.
Hoepner said he followed Roeder out of the church and into a parking lot but backed off when Roeder threatened him. “He turned around over his shoulder and said, ‘I’ve got a gun, I’ll shoot you,” Hoepner said. “I stopped.”
Roeder also said “something like ‘Lord forgive me’” as he fled, Hoepner said.
Another member of the congregation testified that he had also chased after Roeder and tried to stop him from driving away. “He said ‘move or I’ll shoot you’ and he pointed his gun at my face,” Keith Martin testified.
Both witnesses said they had seen Roeder in the Reformation Lutheran church before the May 31 shooting of Tiller, whose foes had dubbed him “Tiller the Baby Killer.”
The church has been the scene of numerous disruptions by abortion opponents over the years because of Tiller’s membership.
Roeder has admitted shooting Tiller, saying he did so to protect unborn children.
Sedgwick County District Judge Warren Wilbert has said he will not allow Roeder’s trial to be turned into a forum on the issue of abortion — a deeply divisive issue in the United States.
But he has not yet ruled on whether Roeder may introduce evidence suggesting he is guilty of the lesser offense of voluntary manslaughter.
Under Kansas law, voluntary manslaughter can apply if a defendant acts on an “unreasonable but honest” belief that he is preventing harm to himself or others.