- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 26, 2010

WICHITA, Kan. | Jurors hearing the case of a man charged with killing Dr. George Tiller heard the word “abortion” for the first time Monday, when an usher testified about seeing protesters at the church the prominent abortion doctor had attended.

Keith Martin, an usher at Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita, where Dr. Tiller was fatally shot May 31, testified about seeing the man accused in the killing at the church a half-dozen times before the shooting. Unlike other churchgoers, Scott Roeder always brought his own Bible and sat by himself, Mr. Martin said.

Mr. Roeder, 51, has publicly admitted he killed Mr. Tiller but has pleaded not guilty to charges of first-degree murder and aggravated assault in the case. The Kansas City, Mo., man said in a court filing that the trial would be a “charade” if he were not allowed to argue that the killing was necessary to save “preborn babies” from abortion.

District Attorney Nola Foulston first said the word abortion during the second day of testimony in the trial when she asked Mr. Martin about numerous protests at the church, asking him if the protests appeared to be “involving the position on abortion.”

Mr. Martin said they seemed to be.

He testified that the protests had made church members suspicious of newcomers even before the shooting. He related at least five instances since 1991 in which visitors had disrupted the service. At times, visitors had stood up in the congregation and started shouting. Some even tried to take over the microphone, Mr. Martin said, and at one time someone tried to push a pianist off the stool.

Still, Mr. Martin said, he didn’t closely watch Mr. Roeder the day of the shooting because he had seen Mr. Roeder before at services without incident.

Mr. Martin also testified about the Evangelical Lutheran Church’s five-page “social statement” adopted in 1991 on abortion, saying it encourages alternatives such as adoption but allows the procedure as “an absolutely last resort” provided it corresponds with the law.

Mr. Roeder’s attorneys have been keeping their defense strategy under wraps. Defense attorney Steve Osburn may have dropped the first hint during his cross-examination earlier in the day of usher Gary Hoepner, who had testified about the day of the shooting. He said he watched Mr. Roeder approach the doctor in church, put a gun to his head and pull the trigger.

Mr. Osburn asked Mr. Hoepner if he thought that action was “reasonable.” Mr. Hoepner, clearly surprised by the question, responded, “No.”

Mr. Roeder’s attorneys are expected to try to build a case for a conviction of voluntary manslaughter. In Kansas, voluntary manslaughter is defined as “an unreasonable but honest belief that circumstances existed that justified deadly force.”

District Judge Warren Wilbert has banned a so-called necessity defense, which would be used to argue Mr. Roeder should be acquitted, and insisted the trial would not turn into a battle over abortion.

But the judge galvanized both sides of the debate when he refused to bar the defense from trying for a conviction on the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter by arguing Mr. Roeder believed Mr. Tiller’s killing would save unborn children.

Judge Wilbert won’t rule on whether to let jurors consider the lesser charge until after the defense rests its case.

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