Carolyn Marie Fugit is on assignment for RH Reality Check covering the trial of Scott Roeder.
For several months, we have heard stories about Scott
Roeder’s assassination of Dr. George Tiller. We have heard many stories through
the media from people near the case but not part of it. In July, we got the
first taste of what we would expect to hear in the trial: two ushers near Dr.
Tiller chased Roeder who threatened them; a late-comer to church saw the
license plate; and Dr. Tiller died of from a single shot, the gun pressed right
against his head. During last week’s opening statement, the prosecution said
they would introduce evidence that Roeder stayed in Wichita overnight after
going to his brother’s in Topeka for target practice. When he was arrested, he
was wearing shoes that contained Dr. Tiller’s blood. The gun has still not been
found. We’ve heard stories from eyewitnesses, seen photographs of important
items, and heard law enforcement retracing evidence. And today, we put the
final pieces together.
Friday, we heard the 911 call Kathy Wegner made after she
heard a gunshot, turned around, and saw Dr. Tiller lying on the ground. Dr.
Paul Ryding heard the gunshot, went into the foyer, and tried to help Dr.
Tiller though he figured it was too late. Two Wichita police officers describe
answering the call to help, their arrival at the church, and described the
pictures of the scene and Dr. Tiller.
After the weekend, Gary Hoepner told us that as he was
talking to Dr. Tiller, he saw Roeder walking out of the sanctuary. He looked at
the table and, in the corner of his eye, saw Roeder shoot Dr. Tiller. He chased
after, hearing Roeder shout back that he had a gun. Keith Martin, on the other
side of the foyer, heard the shot, saw someone running out, and gave chase a
different way. He stood in front of Roeder’s car. Roeder told him to move, but
he didn’t. Roeder pointed his gun at him, told him again to move, and he did.
As Roeder drove off, he threw the coffee he still had into the open window.
Pastor Kristin Neitzel saw Roeder at the special Pentecostal service Saturday,
May 31st. She thought it was odd that he left very early in the service. She
sat down where he had sat and found an envelope with an odd message. On that
Sunday, she led the service, telling the congregants of the shooting before
leading them in prayer.
On Tuesday, we heard a great deal of evidence. Roeder
stayed in a hotel near the church, chatting with the clerk before he left.
Shortly after he reached Gardner in Johnson County, sheriff deputies pulled him
over and arrested him. When his car arrived in Wichita, unspent ammunition was
found inside along with the shirt he was wearing in the church. There were
coffee spots on the car that were consistent with Martin tossing the cup at
him. We learned Roeder had bought the gun in Lawrence approximately two weeks
before, picked it up the week before, and ammunition for it the day before. He
went to Topeka for target practice at his brother’s house. The gun had some
problems so they took it to a gun shop in Topeka, bought some more ammo and
some gun oil.
Today began with Gary Miller, the firearm and tool mark
examiner for Sedgwick County. He examined bullet fragments and shell casings
from both the church and Roeder’s brother’s in Topeka. He said he could not
positively say the bullets were fired from the same gun. He could say, however,
that all the casings found in Topeka matched the one found in the church: they
were fired from the same gun.
Shelly Steadman is the DNA lab manager at Sedgwick
County’s Forensic Science Center. She examined blood on the pants Roeder was
wearing at his arrest. She said what she was able to examine was Roeder’s
blood. The blood on one of the shoes he was wearing, however, matched Dr.
Dr. Jaime Oeberst is the District Coroner and chief
medical examiner for Sedgwick County. An x-ray showed fragments near an entry
wound and a larger fragment at the back of Dr. Tiller’s head. She said soot
deposits, among other evidence, showed the gun was placed on Dr. Tiller’s head,
as he was looking down, when he was shot.
With this, the jury left. Before the prosecution will
rest Thursday morning, there were a couple of legal matters that needed to be
handled. The defense had subpoenaed Jeanne Tiller for Dr. Tiller’s appointment
records. The defense withdrew this subpoena: Dr. Tiller’s patients will remain
confidential. The judge also squashed a subpoena for Deputy Attorney General
Barry Disney. The defense said they wanted him to testify that he tried Dr.
Tiller last March "in good faith". Judge Wilbert ruled this was unnecessary
and was irrelevant. The defense wanted to make sure the record reflected their
objections and reasons for the subpoena for the Court of Appeals.
From now on, the defense will have to proffer – meaning
outside the presence of the jury – what evidence any witness will testify about
before they will be allowed to testify. Tomorrow will start with the defense
proffer of former Kansas Attorney General Phil Kline. It is at this time that
Roeder will try to say he held the "honest but unreasonable belief"
required for voluntary manslaughter. But before the jury will deliberate, the
defense must satisfy the judge that they have proved Dr. Tiller provided an
imminent threat. Only the next couple of days will tell.