15 Things I Took From Scott Roeder’s Sentencing

Alright, I’m unoriginal.

A couple of months ago, I wrote 15 Things I Took From Scott Roeder’s Murder Trial.  As I prepared to cover his sentencing hearing, I knew I’d make a new post about it.  Surely, however, not another list.

Something would stand out about this hearing.  The judge’s sentencing decision.  Roeder’s statement.  The Tiller family’s statement.  An outburst in the courtroom.  Something.

When the three-week trial gives you 15 things to write about, a one-day sentencing hearing will surely only give you one or two topics to latch onto.

I was wrong.

Scott Roeder shouting at prosecutors as he's led out of the courtroom following his sentencing hearing. (AP Photo/Jeff Tuttle, Pool)

Judge Warren Wilbert gave Scott Roeder the “Hard 50” for killing perhaps the most well-known abortion provider in the nation, Dr. George Tiller.  A life sentence was a foregone conclusion as it’s mandated by Kansas state law for anyone convicted of first degree premeditated murder.  The question was whether Roeder would be eligible for parole in 25 or 50 years.

This was Roeder’s second chance to speak in court, and we all knew he’d try to make the most of his soapbox.

This was the Tiller family’s first chance to speak to his murderer, and you have to pay attention to words from such a private family.  You might never hear their perspective again (I don’t think we can say the same for Mr. Roeder).

Jeanne Tiller, Dr. George Tiller's widow, hugs a family member during Scott Roeder's sentencing hearing. (AP Photo/Jeff Tuttle, Pool)

So at the end of an exhausting 15-hour day, I collected my thoughts and realized there was too much to write about.  I’d again underestimated this case.  I needed another list.

15 THINGS I TOOK FROM SCOTT ROEDER’S SENTENCING

  1. I’m now slightly frightened of prosecutor Ann Swegle.  I’ve never seen the woman so angry as she was on Thursday.  As she described Roeder’s actions and his words in court, she shot him a glance that almost looked like she could have taken down several courtroom security deputies had she tried to get to him.
  2. “The blood of babies on your hands, Nola Foulston…and Ann Swegle…and Kim Parker!”  Roeder shouted this at prosecutors as he was led from the courtroom.  It was his last and loudest outburst of the day.
  3. (Continuum of #3) Roeder’s outbursts removed all sense of martyrdom and maturity he’d tried to build up (I stress tried) during his trial.  Roeder was cool, calm, and collected at trial.  I honestly believe he was trying to present himself to the jury as a rational man in a world with an unjust law.  This would have been a tough sell regardless of his courtroom demeanor.  On Thursday, he blew it.
  4. The victim impact statement from Dr. Tiller’s family was a good one.  The first 10 minutes in an 18-minute speech focused on the late doctor instead of the man who took his life.  It covered Dr. Tiller’s life well, moved on to calling Roeder’s actions “terrorism,” and left with Tiller’s loved ones on the high ground.
  5. About 15 minutes into his statement, Roeder began a 25-minute reading of another anti-abortionist (and fellow murderer of an abortion provider) Paul Hill’s book.  Really?  I understand briefly quoting someone, but surely your own words are more genuine than reading from a book.
  6. After talking to many of the players in this case, I know it took them several days after the trial to decompress.  I wonder how long it will take for the stress to subside this time.
  7. Scott Roeder will never regret his actions.  I wrote this in my previous Roeder post, and in my mind, Thursday only reaffirmed it.
  8. Something else that bears repeating for journalistic integrity’s sake.  My abortion beliefs have not changed.  I’m not going to share what those are, but this case, trial, and sentencing did nothing to change them.
  9. “Why are we even here?”  This was the reaction from a Kansas City TV reporter after I told him Roeder had at least a 15-page written statement prepared (turns out it was far more than 15 pages).  The reporter rolled his eyes from across the room, began laughing, and I thought he was making fun of me at first.  Then, he began a short rant asking why Roeder wasn’t already in prison if he’d done so much to admit and champion his murder.  You should have been here for the trial, friend.
  10. Roeder’s defense attorney Mark Rudy checked his cell phone during Roeder’s statement.
  11. It was surreal to listen to Roeder’s four character witnesses.  The KC Star’s Judy Thomas called it a “parade” of witnesses, and it certainly felt like a circus.  None were allowed to give their full intended statements because they kept veering into their views on abortion, but that’s not what struck me.  It was their arguments.  One said she’d never heard Roeder curse (an excellent attribute if you’re applying to be an elementary school teacher, but not much good here).  Another said he’d never seen Roeder show any violent tendencies (well, shooting another human being in the head at point blank range inside a church sort of trumps your observation, doesn’t it?).
  12. (Continuum of #11) Regina Dinwiddie, another activist who supports violence against abortion providers, looked legitimately disappointed when Judge Wilbert told her there was no way Roeder was getting probation, as if she thought she had a shot at persuading him otherwise.
  13. I got a shout out over Twitter and on-air from MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow.  I know this is supposed to be about the hearing and I don’t get pleasure from covering other people’s suffering, but still…sweet.
  14. I thought people would get bored as they watched our online streaming video of the hearing and the feed KWCH aired on our sister station, the Kansas CW.  A good portion of Thursday was extremely dull.  I was wrong.  Dozens of people messaged me they were glued to their computers and TV’s all day long.
  15. The Hard 50 was an appropriate sentence.  I don’t think a standard life sentence with parole eligibility in 25 years would have mattered much to 52-year-old Roeder himself.  There’s a good chance Roeder won’t be alive in 25 years.  Prison has a long-term, wear-and-tear way of lowering one’s life expectancy.  However, what if someone my age (27) decided to follow in Roeder’s footsteps?  A half century is a far more daunting sentence and message than 25 years.

Thanks for your time reading this blog post.  Feel free to comment or join the discussion.

Cliff

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