Tiller's accused killer asserts links to Operation Rescue

KANSAS CITY — The man charged with killing Wichita abortion doctor George Tiller said in an interview he was angry at a major anti-abortion group that he thought had abandoned him.

Scott Roeder also said from jail that he was elated that Tiller was dead and that he knew he could be going to prison for decades.

He talked about his whereabouts on the day of his arrest, including plans he had made to pick up goat milk and cheese at a farm west of Kansas City.

The Kansas City Star interviewed Roeder three times in recent weeks, including once at the Sedgwick County Jail.

In a phone interview Friday, Roeder said he was upset at the president of Operation Rescue, Troy Newman, who had condemned the killing and said his organization had nothing to do with Roeder.

“He said that I never was a member and I never contributed any money,” Roeder said. “Well, my gosh, I’ve got probably a thousand dollars worth of receipts, at least, from the money I’ve donated to him.”

Roeder said he wrote Newman a letter from jail.

“I told him, ‘You better get your story straight because my lawyer said it’d be good for me to show that I was supporting a pro-life organization.’ ”

Newman said Friday he didn’t believe Roeder gave money to his group.

“We have a database, but I haven’t been able to find him in the database,” he said. “If he did (donate), we have probably over the past 10 years over 50,000 people who have contributed to us.”

He said Tiller’s killing had undermined the work of those trying to stop abortion through legal means.

“We’ve worked 20 years in the pro-life movement to do things within the system,” he said. “It certainly doesn’t help us out when guys assassinate abortionists in their church — or any other place.”

Tiller — one of a handful of doctors in the country who performed late-term abortions — was shot in the foyer of his Wichita church on May 31 while serving as an usher.

Roeder, 51, has been charged with first-degree murder. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Tuesday.

During interviews over the past several weeks, Roeder ranged over a number of topics:

Roeder said he felt “relief and joy” over the shooting.

“And I’ve heard that three women have actually changed their minds and had their babies because there’s no availability here,” he said. “Wichita has been abortion-free since that time.

“That’s total elation.”

Roeder was careful in answering questions about his whereabouts the day Tiller was killed.

“For the man accused of this,” he said, “things fell together for that day.” He added that “it would have been earlier if things had panned out.”

He declined to elaborate.

Roeder didn’t admit being in Wichita that day but said, “I remember reading in the paper that they were checking all the toll booth cameras” on the Kansas Turnpike. “There are ways to get to Wichita without taking toll roads.”

Roeder said that when he was arrested on Interstate 35 in Johnson County several hours after the murder, “I was going to get my paycheck at work and cash it and go and get something to eat.”

The night before Tiller was killed, he called a friend in the Kansas City area to talk about an order she had placed for goat milk that he planned to pick up for her at a farm between Topeka and Lawrence the next day.

Roeder said he was no stranger to Wichita or Tiller’s clinic.

“I had been here several times,” he said. “I would come down here and do sidewalk counseling.”

Roeder talked about attending Tiller’s trial in Wichita in March. Tiller was found not guilty of breaking a state law requiring that two Kansas physicians without legal or financial ties sign off on any late-term abortion procedure.

“I actually was at part of the trial twice, but I was never able to attend the whole thing,” he said. “They did not even deliberate for 25 minutes, and all of a sudden, bang! Not guilty. It was a very questionable thing.”

Roeder said he was tired of Operation Rescue’s Newman and other anti-abortion groups that said they believed the state would have revoked Tiller’s license within a few months of his trial.

“First of all, if the state of Kansas doesn’t find him guilty, how are you going to get his license pulled?” Roeder said. “Not only that, approximately 300 more babies were going to die in two months.”

Roeder said he knew Shelley Shannon, the woman who shot and wounded Tiller in 1993. He told The Star that he visited Shannon in prison in Topeka when she was serving time for shooting Tiller.

“Every week that I was allowed to get in, I would see her, for probably two, three months,” he said.

Shannon now is in federal prison, serving a 20-year sentence for committing a series of clinic bombings and arsons in the Pacific Northwest.

Dressed in a maroon jail-issue jumpsuit, Roeder was animated and in an upbeat mood throughout a 30-minute jailhouse interview. He laughed about media reports that a red rose was in the back window of his car when he was arrested. A red rose is a symbol in the anti-abortion movement.

“My roommate, he was visiting some friends and brought home some carnations,” he said. “I took one to put on my father’s grave.”

Roeder said since about 1992 he considered killing abortion doctors an act of justifiable homicide.

He praised Paul Hill, who killed an abortion doctor and his bodyguard in Pensacola, Fla., in 1994, and said he agreed “100 percent with him.” Hill was executed by the state of Florida in 2003.

Roeder said that “a lot of people have problems with violence in general,” but in most cases, a person who prevents a killing is considered a hero.

“When a policeman shoots somebody on the street, for example, and stops somebody from taking the life of innocent people, that’s violence, and everybody’s fine with that,” he said.

He said after he got involved in the abortion issue, “I would counsel with many people, get their viewpoints.” Only 1 percent or 2 percent of those he talked to actually agreed with him regarding the killing of abortion doctors, he said.

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