Roeder Convicted in Abortion Doc Slay

District Attorney Nola Foulston cross-examines defendant Scott Roeder during his first degree murder trial on Thursday, Jan. 28, 2010 in Wichita, Kan. Roeder, the man accused of murdering prominent Kansas abortion provider Dr. George Tiller, took the stand in his own defense Thursday and promptly admitted that he fatally shot Tiller in an attempt to save unborn children. (AP Photo/Jeff Tuttle, Pool)
AP Photo/Jeff Tuttle, Pool
Updated at 1:12 p.m. EST

A man who said he killed prominent Kansas abortion provider Dr. George Tiller in order to save the lives of unborn children was convicted Friday of murder.

The jury deliberated for just 37 minutes before finding Scott Roeder, 51, of Kansas City, Mo., guilty of premeditated, first-degree murder in the May 31 shooting death.

He faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison with the possibility of parole after 25 years when he is sentenced March 9. Prosecutor Nola Foulston said she would pursue a so-called "Hard 50" sentence, which would require Roeder to serve at least 50 years before he can be considered for parole.

Roeder had confessed publicly before the trial and admitted again on the witness stand that he shot Tiller in the head in the foyer of the church where the doctor was serving as an usher. He testified he felt the lives of unborn children were in "immediate danger" because of Tiller.

Roeder also was convicted of aggravated assault for pointing a gun at two ushers at Tiller's Wichita church after the shooting.

Roeder sat straightforward as the verdict was read, showing no visible reaction as he moved his head toward the judge and to the jury as each juror confirmed the verdict.

Tiller was one of the nation's few providers of late-term abortions, and his Wichita clinic was the focus of many protests. It also had been under investigation by a former state district attorney who accused Tiller of skirting Kansas' abortion laws.

Roeder's attorneys were hoping to get a lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter for Roeder, but the judge ruled that the jury could not consider such a verdict.

District Judge Warren Wilbert also refused to allow jurors to consider a second-degree murder conviction, which does not involve premeditation, because the evidence - and Roeder's own testimony - clearly showed Roeder planned the shooting.

Prosecutors were careful during the first few days of testimony to avoid the subject of abortion and to focus on the specifics of the shooting. Wilbert said he did not want the trial to become a debate on abortion, but he did allow Roeder to discuss his views on the subject because his attorneys said they were integral to their case.

Through their attorneys, Tiller's family thanked the jury, prosecutors and law enforcement officials involved in the case.

"At this time we hope that George can be remembered for his legacy of service to women, the help he provided for those who needed it and the love and happiness he provided us as a husband, father and grandfather," the family statement read.

Roeder testified he told no one of his plans and targeted only Tiller. But he acknowledged talking mostly to "like-minded" people about his belief, which he began to hold in the late 1990s, that killing abortion providers was justified.

Roeder was the sole defense witness after the judge barred testimony from two state prosecutors whom the defense subpoenaed in a futile bid to show Roeder believed Tiller was performing unlawful abortions and was frustrated charges against the doctor had been dismissed in one case. Jurors in the other case acquitted the doctor.

Roeder testified that he considered elaborate schemes to stop the doctor, including chopping off his hands, crashing a car into him or sneaking into his home to kill him. But in the end, Roeder told jurors, the easiest way was to walk into Tiller's church, put a gun to the doctor's forehead and pull the trigger.

"Those children were in immediate danger if someone did not stop George Tiller," Roeder told jurors.

Roeder testified he went to Reformation Lutheran Church on three other occasions to kill Tiller: once the evening before and once the week before Tiller was shot, and once in 2008, but Tiller was not at the church on those occasions.