Later this month, the Kansas Supreme Court will consider an appeal by the man convicted of first-degree murder in the case of Dr. George Tiller. Roeder fatally shot Tiller inside of Tiller’s church on May 31, 2009 in Wichita, Kan. Tiller performed third-trimester abortions and during the original trial his killer, Scott Roeder, admitted to planning Tiller’s murder for years.
In April 2013, Julie Burkhart, Executive Director of South Wind Women's Center, reopened a clinic in the space where Dr. Tiller’s practice once operated.
“You know, when Dr. Tiller was murdered, I felt like there was just this huge, gaping hole in the world," she says. "I feel like reopening this clinic, it’s helped to right something that was very wrong.”
Burkhart’s work has not come without risks. Personally, she’s filed restraining orders against an activist who has harassed her outside of her home.The clinic has also taken protective measures including metal detectors, security cameras and guards.
“That’s sad,” she says. “Because what other medical facility really has to have all of these things?"
Outside of SWWC, there is a nearly constant presence of pro-life "sidewalk counselors." They try to speak with women entering SWWC in an attempt to dissuade them from considering abortions.
“It’s just a local group of citizens concerned about the fact that we have an abortion clinic in our city and the fact that people here don’t know that they have other alternatives to this,” Brian Burkkemper said in the early hours of a biting cold day.
Burkkemper, a member of Kansas Coalition for Life, stood behind a table outside of the clinic’s metal gate.
When asked his opinion about Roeder’s appeal, he firmly stated, “I’ve never had anything to do with that, with Scott Roeder. Neither has this group, he’s never been a part of this.”
Dr. Scott Stringfield is the Medical Director and Board Chair for Choices Medical Clinic, a facility that offers alternatives to abortion. It is separated from SWWC by a fence. He says an anonymous pro-life donor originally bought the building that became CMC to keep Dr. Tiller’s former practice from expanding its space. He says that neither he nor his staff are affiliated with the KCFL's "sidewalk counselors" outside of SWWC or any other street teams.
“I don’t know him personally. I abhor what he did. I guess speaking as a representative of the pro-life community I would say that it’s unfortunate," Stringfield says of Roeder’s upcoming appeal. "It would seem as though that issue had already been decided, however I do believe in the legal system and I do believe people have the right to appeal and they should. I guess personally, many of us in the pro-life community have been painted in that light as a result of individuals who’ve done abhorrent acts like this, so it’s unfortunate.”
Attorneys for Scott Roeder are contesting Roeder’s first-degree murder conviction. In an appearance scheduled for Jan. 29, they will ask the Kansas Supreme Court to rule that the instructions to the jury in the case were incomplete – the 2010 jury was not told to consider a voluntary manslaughter charge. The attorneys assert that the jury, which deliberated for less than an hour before handing down the original conviction, was not allowed to consider the lesser charge. They say it should be considered because Roeder believed his actions were necessary – saying that babies were in imminent danger.
Though Roeder was sentenced to life in prison without parole for 50 years under Kansas’ Hard 50 law, a recent Federal Supreme Court ruling now allows for appeals in advanced sentence cases.
Nola Foulston, former district attorney and original prosecuting attorney in the Roeder case, says that, among the possible outcomes of the Jan. 29 hearing, a reversal of Roeder’s Hard 50 sentence would be more likely than the appeal to a consideration of a voluntary manslaughter charge. If it's ruled that the Hard 50 sentence appeal has value, Roeder's sentence could be adjusted to 25 years. If that happened, the State, in cooperation with Dr. Tiller's family, would have to retry the case in an attempt to get the 50-year sentence reinstated. And, since the 2010 jury could not be re-empaneled, the case would be retried if it's judged that they were wrongly instructed.
From the 2010 testimony of Scott Roeder: