Courts & Crime

Defendant Scott Roeder may testify today in Tiller murder trial

The judge in the Scott Roeder murder trial will decide today whether former Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline can be forced to testify.

The judge also will decide how much Roeder will be allowed to say about abortion when he takes the stand — most likely today — in his own defense.

Roeder is charged with first-degree murder in the May 31 shooting death of Wichita abortion provider George Tiller, but his lawyers are hoping for a conviction on a lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter.

District Judge Warren Wilbert said Wednesday that defense lawyers had a "formidable and daunting task" if they hope to convince him to allow the jury to consider a voluntary manslaughter conviction.

Wilbert said he will rule at the close of testimony which charges the jury will be allowed to consider.

After prosecutors wrapped up their case Wednesday, lawyers spent much of the afternoon debating what role abortion will play in Roeder's defense.

Wilbert said Roeder will be allowed to express his anti-abortion views, but he said, "We are not going to make this a referendum on abortion."

"He's not going to be able to get up there and blurt out whatever he wants to say," Wilbert said. "We're not going to discuss partial-birth abortion."

It became clear during the afternoon arguments that a key piece of the defense strategy will involve the March 2009 jury trial that ended when Tiller was acquitted of 19 misdemeanor charges. The charges related to financial arrangements in performing late-term abortions.

Roeder attended that trial, his lawyers said, and the not-guilty verdicts may have contributed to Roeder's decision to shoot Tiller at Reformation Lutheran Church.

Wilbert ruled Wednesday that Deputy Attorney General Barry Disney, the prosecutor at the Tiller trial, cannot be forced to testify on Roeder's behalf.

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