Courts & Crime

Foreman says abortion never came up in Tiller deliberations

WICHITA, Kan. — Abortion never came up in jurors' brief deliberations Friday at the end of Scott Roeder's trial in the murder of abortion provider Dr. George Tiller, according to the jury's foreman.

"It was never spoken of," said the 54-year-old, whose first service as a juror came in a trial that drew reporters and activists on both sides of the abortion issue from coast to coast.

He said the jury discussed only the question of whether Roeder was guilty of first-degree murder for shooting Tiller while Tiller served as an usher in his Wichita church, and whether Roeder was guilty of aggravated assault for pointing a handgun at two people who tried to block his escape.

Because of security concerns, the juror asked that his name not be used. He said he didn't want to take any chances that someone might lash out against him.

The guilty verdict was unanimous from the beginning of the deliberations, he said.

"There wasn't much to argue about."

They found the evidence against Roeder "overwhelming."

That's why it took only 37 minutes to decide, he said.

For security during the trial, he said, jurors were picked up at an undisclosed location. Officers carefully checked vehicles used to transport them, passing mirrors underneath.

The measures reassured him.

"We never felt like we were in any danger."

He said he wanted to give "a big thank you" to Sedgwick County sheriff's officers and to District Judge Warren Wilbert, who presided over the trial.

"He was very passionate about our safety," the juror said of Wilbert. "He went to great lengths" to protect the jurors' identities.

As the trial moved forward, it became abundantly clear that Roeder was guilty, the juror said.

Roeder testified that he killed Tiller, a nationally known abortion provider, to prevent more abortions. Roeder and his attorneys hoped to build a defense based on the argument that Tiller's killing was done to prevent "imminent deaths" at Tiller's clinic. But Wilbert decided the jury would not be allowed to consider a verdict of voluntary manslaughter.

In the juror's mind, Roeder hurt himself with his testimony —"how he plotted this for a number of years." It showed premeditation, the juror said.

The evidence was solid, he said. "The trial was really based on cold, hard facts... undisputable facts."

He couldn't help watching Roeder, noting that throughout the trial Roeder never smiled, never reacted —"just kind of a blank look on his face, no matter what was said."

"I thought he was pretty cool, calm and collected... for a man who was going through what he was going through."

At times, the prosecutors' repetitious questioning got monotonous, he said. "But we hung in there pretty tough."

By the time defense lawyer Mark Rudy got to make his closing argument, the juror said, "You could see it in his face. He had nothing" with which to defend his client.

The jurors, as directed, did not discuss the case among themselves until they deliberated, he said. "It was a very professional setting back there in the jury room."

When deliberations began and it was time to pick a lead juror, he said, "There was a sense that no one really wanted to do it." So he volunteered.

The experience was sobering for the juror, who transports heavy construction equipment for a living.

"It's a hell of a thing... to send a man to prison for the rest of their life. That decision was taken very seriously."

Tiller's family released a statement Friday calling it a "just verdict." District Attorney Nola Foulston said prosecutors had fought hard to keep the jury from being allowed to consider a voluntary manslaughter verdict. Rudy said his case was hopeless after that option was disallowed.

By Friday afternoon, after the whole thing was over, the juror experienced a "weird, numb feeling."

He went home and took his mind away from the trial, brushing his horse, petting his dogs.

"That's all I pretty much wanted to do."

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