Mrs. George Tiller, second from left, follows the casket of her husband out of College Hill United Methodist Church in Wichita, Kan.
(AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) Abortion providers say that threats of more slayings from a man accused in the shooting death of a high-profile Kansas abortion doctor proves the existence of a "violent, terrorist movement" coalescing around the issue.
Scott Roeder called The Associated Press Sunday from the Sedgwick County jail, where he's being held on charges of first-degree murder and aggravated assault in the shooting death of Dr. George Tiller last week at the doctor's church in Wichita.
"I know there are many other similar events planned around the country as long as abortion remains legal," Roeder said. When asked by the AP if he was referring to another shooting, he refused to elaborate.
(AP Photo/Sedgwick County Jail)
It wasn't clear whether Roeder knew of any impending violence or was simply seeking publicity for his cause. Law enforcement authorities, including the Justice Department, said they didn't know whether Sunday's comments were credible. And a leader of the anti-abortion movement derided the accused shooter as "a fruit and a lunatic."
"He is a terrorist - there is no question about that. I don't believe he is an isolated terrorist," said Dr. LeRoy Carhart, a Nebraska abortion provider who also practiced at Tiller's Wichita clinic.
In response to the remarks, Dr. Warren Hern, of Boulder, Colo., called on President Barack Obama to go on national television and demand that anti-abortion violence and terrorism stop.
"It is exactly the same as the Taliban, but the Taliban is 8,000 miles away and the Taliban is too civilized to assassinate people in mosques," said Hern, one of the few remaining doctors in the country who performs late-term abortions.
Carhart acknowledged Roeder might just be trying to get publicity, but noted that Tiller was not the first abortion provider killed.
"There is more than one lunatic running loose in this country that can be influenced by the religious rhetoric," Carhart said.
Asked if he shot Tiller, Roeder said he couldn't comment and needed to clear everything with his lawyer.
Tiller's clinic, one of the few in the country to perform late-term abortions, had been a target of regular demonstrations. Most were peaceful, but his clinic was bombed in 1986 and he was shot in both arms in 1993. In 1991, a 45-day "Summer of Mercy" campaign organized by Operation Rescue drew thousands of abortion opponents to Wichita, and there were more than 2,700 arrests.
Justice Department spokesman Matthew Miller said in a written statement Sunday that "we take this matter seriously, which is why the Attorney General ordered increased protection of appropriate people and facilities last week."
And the Justice Department opened an investigation Friday to see if Tiller's killer had accomplices. The department said its Civil Rights Division and the U.S. attorney's office in Kansas would investigate whether the killing violated a 1994 law creating criminal penalties for violent or damaging conduct toward abortion providers and their patients.
An attorney for the Tiller family, Dan Monnat, said he wasn't sure they should be dignifying Roeder's threats with a response "every time he makes a hare-brained phone call."
"I am hopeful that state and federal authorities, including Homeland Security, will give Mr. Roeder and his information a deserving response," Monnat said, declining to elaborate.
Nancy Keenan president of NARAL-Pro-Choice America, said Roeder's comments "continue to escalate that kind of activity, that kind of violence. Quite honestly, I think it's imperative for anti-choice groups to tone down that rhetoric and keep the more extreme elements in their movement form copying Scott Roeder."
Troy Newman, president of the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, sent an e-mail to the AP Sunday saying of Tiller: "This guy is a fruit and a lunatic."
Roeder, 51, told the AP he refused to talk to investigators after he was arrested a few hours after Tiller's shooting and has made no statements to police since then.
"I just told them I needed to talk to my lawyer," Roeder said.
In two separate calls to AP Sunday, Roeder also complained about the "deplorable conditions in solitary" in Sedgwick County jail.
Sedgwick County Sheriff Robert Hinshaw said that Roeder was receiving appropriate medical treatment.
"It is after all a jail, but a modern state-of-the-art facility with professional staff," Hinshaw said. "While Mr. Roeder may not care for being in the Sedgwick County jail, all of our conditions and policies are designed to provide safety and security for all inmates, staff and public at large."
Roeder said it was freezing in his cell. "I started having a bad cough. I thought I was going to have pneumonia."
He said he called AP because he wanted to publicize the conditions in the jail so that in the future suspects would not have to endure the same conditions. Roeder also said he wanted the public to know he has been denied phone privileges for the past two days, and needed his sleep apnea machine. Hinshaw disputed that phone privileges had been denied.