TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas’ highest court Friday agreed with the first-degree murder conviction of the man who admitted shooting abortion provider Dr. George Tiller to death, rejecting his argument that he should have been allowed to present a defense that his actions were necessary to stop a greater wrong.
But the state Supreme Court also overturned Scott P. Roeder’s sentence of life in prison with no chance of parole for 50 years. It ordered a lower court to resentence him because the punishment was imposed under an older version of the state’s “Hard 50” law deemed unconstitutional under a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2013.
Tiller’s clinic in Wichita was among a handful in the U.S. known to perform late-term abortions. Roeder shot Tiller to death in May 2009 in the foyer of Tiller’s church, just before a Sunday service.
Roeder testified during his Sedgwick County District Court trial that he killed Tiller to prevent abortions. But he wasn’t allowed to present a defense that the shooting was necessary in his view to save unborn children.
The Supreme Court said to invoke a “necessity” defense, Roeder had to be attacking a legal wrong, not something offending his moral views. Roeder questioned whether Tiller was performing illegal abortions — the doctor had been acquitted of misdemeanor charges weeks before — but the Supreme Court said those circumstances could not justify murder.
“By analogy, no one would find it necessary to kill an over-the-road trucker for failing to maintain an up-to-date log book,” Justice Lee Johnson wrote in the court’s opinion.
A judge imposed Roeder’s punishment in 2011 after concluding circumstances warranted the “Hard 50” sentence rather than life with parole eligibility after 25 years. The U.S. Supreme Court said last year said juries must consider such issues, and the Legislature rewrote the law.
Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett said he expected to seek the tougher sentence again.
Roeder’s public defenders did not immediately return a telephone message seeking comment. He did not immediately respond to an email sent to his prison account.
His ex-wife, Lindsey Roeder, said that she had expected the ruling.
“We are relieved that he will be resentenced,” she said. “We are relieved the district attorney is going for the Hard 50.”
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