Jury selection proceeded behind closed doors Tuesday for the first-degree murder trial of Scott Roeder, who has publicly admitted killing Tiller on May 31 while the doctor known for providing late-term abortions was serving as a church usher. The 51-year-old from Kansas City, Mo., also faces two counts of aggravated assault for allegedly threatening two ushers who tried to stop him after the shooting.
Roeder had reportedly visited Shelley Shannon when she was jailed in Topeka for shooting Tiller.
Shannon, who is serving time in Minnesota for a series of clinic arsons, sent the message about Tiller through the prison e-mail system's Web page to abortion activist Dave Leach in Iowa. The e-mail, obtained by The Associated Press, claimed Tiller killed "preborn babies" throughout the whole nine months of pregnancy and broke Kansas laws but always got away with it without going to jail.
"He needed to be killed for the sake of justice," she wrote, before citing verses from the Bible. "Whatever happens in the Kansas courtroom, justice was done on May 31, AD 2009."
Tiller, 67, had been the target of relentless protests for most of the 36 years that he performed abortions at his Wichita clinic, one of the few places in the nation where women could get late-term abortions. He was shot in both arms in 1993 by Shannon, and his clinic was bombed in 1986.
Anti-abortion groups such as Kansans for Life and Operation Rescue have denounced the violence and for the most part are keeping their distance from Roeder's trial. The more radical activists who plan to attend say they plan to just quietly observe.
Jennifer McCoy, an abortion opponent who served 30 months in prison for conspiracy to commit arson at a clinic, has attended most of Roeder's pretrial hearings and plans to come to his trial. The 37-year-old Wichita woman, who is expecting her 10th child, had protested in front of Tiller's clinic for 20 years.
McCoy, who visited Roeder in jail, said she wonders what the court is hiding since the public is not allowed to watch jury selection.
"It makes you wonder where the jurors may have stood on a key part of the prosecution and the defense," she said, referring to jurors' beliefs about abortion. "If you don't know that, how can you say whether (the trial) was fair or not?"
While attorneys slog through the private juror questioning, Roeder has been keeping in touch with supporters. In an e-mail sent to abortion activists on Thursday, Leach said Roeder had called him to say this week's jury proceedings were closed. Leach then brightly wrote that the one opportunity activists would have if they came anyway was "a whole courthouse of bored reporters to yourself!"
Leach told the media in an e-mail Sunday that the uncertainty of the trial has upset a few travel plans, but that he knows of 10 to 20 of Roeder's supporters who plan to attend the courtroom proceedings.
Roeder has coordinated his own case with the activities of his support base before. His confession to reporters last November came on the same day several abortion opponents released their "Defensive Action Statement 3rd Edition" in support of his so-called necessity defense.
"We proclaim that whatever force is legitimate to defend the life of a born child is legitimate to defend the life of an unborn child,"Roeder said in that Nov. 9 phone interview. "We assert that if people do in fact kill abortionists their use of force is justifiable provided it is carried out for the purpose of defending the lives of unborn children."
District Judge Warren Wilbert has banned the necessity defense, but refused to block Roeder's attorneys from trying to build a case for the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter if they can show he had an honest belief that deadly force was necessary. The judge said he would rule on whether to allow such evidence when it was presented.
The Rev. Don Spitz of Chesapeake, Va., who runs a Web site supporting violence against abortion providers, has said he and several other activists plan to travel to Wichita for the trial but plan no protests. Spitz was the spiritual adviser to Paul Hill while he was jailed for the murder of a Florida abortion provider and his escort and was with Hill at his 2003 execution. Roeder now talks to Spitz by phone weekly.
The Feminist Majority Foundation has also said it plans to send observers to Roeder's trial.