Jan. 29, 2010 -- The anti-abortion activist who admitted killing Kansas abortion doctor George Tiller was found guilty of first-degree murder and assault today by a jury that deliberated for only 37 minutes.
Scott Roeder had little reaction to the verdict, sitting calmly as the jurors were polled to confirm they agreed with the decision.
The jury in Wichita, Kan., informed the court that it had quickly reached a verdict at 10:34 a.m., less than an hour after closing arguments were concluded.
Roeder faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison with the possibility of parole after 25 years when he is sentenced March 9 for Tiller's murder. Prosecutor Nola Foulston said she would pursue a so-called "Hard 50" sentence, which would require Roeder to serve at least 50 years before he can be considered for parole.
The assault charges stem from attacks on two other people the day of the murder. They were injured as Roeder opened fire on Tiller while Tiller handed out programs in his church.
Defense attorney Mark Rudy said the case was virtually hopeless after Roeder took the stand and confessed.
"I've never seen anyone lay himself out as much as Mr. Roeder did," Rudy said after the verdict.
Roeder's frankness did not win him the possibility of lighter sentence as he had hoped. Instead, it prompted a swift reaction from the trial judge who told the jury they would not be allowed to consider a lesser charge of manslaughter.
In Kansas, a murder charge can be downgraded to manslaughter if the defense can prove the suspect had an unreasonable yet honest belief that killing another person was justified.
"If I didn't do it, those babies would die the next day," Roeder testified, describing how he shot and killed Dr. George Tiller in a church vestibule.
Judge Warren Wilbert quickly squashed any notion Thursday of a lesser charge and told the jury their choices were first-degree murder or acquittal. He also ruled out any possibility of a second-degree murder conviction, noting that Roeder's actions were obviously premeditated.
Wilbert told jurors that Tiller did not pose an imminent threat to anybody when he was killed during Sunday church services in Wichita in May.
"There is no immediate danger in the back of a church," he said.
Tiller, 67, a father of four and grandfather of 10 was handing out programs at church when he was killed.
The defense rested yesterday after Roeder stepped down from the stand.
Roeder's testimony, gruesome at times, proved immensely difficult for Tiller's family, who openly cried in court. He detailed how he walked up to Tiller at the Reform Lutheran Church, put a gun to the doctor's head and pulled the trigger.
He told the jury of how his religious faith had convinced him that what Tiller was doing was wrong and how he had considered cutting off the doctor's hands with a sword. When told Tiller's clinic had closed and asked if he felt regret, Roeder replied simply, "No I don't."
Judge to Suspect: Trial Will Not Be Referendum on Abortion
Wilbert had previously warned Roeder that his trial would not become a forum on abortion. The prosection, according to the Associated Press, objected to Roeder's testimony when he began to stray into describing what exactly an abortion procedure does to a fetus.
Tiller was well known in the area for running the Women's Health Care Services clinic, a high-profile abortion clinic in Wichita, and for being one of the few doctors in the country that still performed controversial late-term abortions.
Roeder's confession on the stand was not the first time he had publicly admitted guilt in the shooting. He told the Associated Press in November that he shot the doctor to prevent him from performing more abortions.
The Associated Press contributed to this report