WICHITA, Kansas (AFP) Ã¢â‚¬â€œ A born-again Christian who said he killed a prominent US abortion doctor to save the lives of unborn babies was sentenced Thursday to life in prison with no chance of parole for 50 years.
Scott Roeder, 52, was pulled out of the courtroom screaming “you have the blood of babies on your hands” after the sentence was handed down.
Judge Warren Wilbert also sentenced Roeder to an additional two years in prison for threatening two ushers who tried to stop him as he fled after shooting Doctor George Tiller to death in the foyer of a Kansas church last May.
Tiller, 67, was one of a handful of doctors in the United States to perform abortions into the third trimester of pregnancy and had been a lightning rod for anti-abortion foes, who nicknamed him “Tiller the baby killer.”
His murder made national headlines in a country deeply divided over whether women should continue to have legal access to abortion.
It also shut down one of the few clinics in the country capable of performing complex and controversial late-term abortions.
Public defender Mark Rudy insisted that there were no aggravating factors to warrant the “Hard 50” for Roeder, who faced a minimum of 25 years in jail after being convicted of first degree murder.
Rudy said that abortion providers are not granted extra protection under state law, and that the case was not supposed to put the issue of abortion on trial.
Roeder repeatedly interrupted witnesses with anti-abortion outbursts and the judge repeatedly admonished him.
In a 40-minute statement before the sentence was handed down, Roeder railed against those who allowed abortion and attacked the judge for his handling of the case.
“George Tiller dismembered living children with a nod of approval from the state and he did this with the blessing of his church,” Roeder declared.
“You have to either obey man or obey God. You have to choose.”
In a move that critics feared could provide cover for acts of political violence, Roeder had sought to convince jurors he was only guilty of voluntary manslaughter.
Under Kansas law, voluntary manslaughter can apply when actions are taken based on an unreasonable but honest defense that he or she is preventing a greater harm.
But Wilbert ruled near the end of the trial that he would not allow jurors to consider the lesser offense.
Prosecutor Nola Foulston welcomed the verdict and said she hoped it would serve as a warning against anyone else who thought they could take the law into their own hands.
“This was an act of terrorism. This was an act of brutality,” she told reporters.
“To others who may consider this course of conduct, remember there’s a place for you too.”
Tiller’s family praised the sentence as appropriate for a “hate crime committed against George, but also against all women and their constitutional rights.”
“Everything possible should be done by the prison system to ensure that this man does not continue to foment hatred and violence from his prison cell,” Tiller’s family said in a statement.