Crime

Kansas Supreme Court orders new sentencing in the killing of Wichita abortion doctor

Scott P. Roeder was found guilty of first-degree murder in the 2009 shooting death of George Tiller in the Wichita church where Tiller served as an usher.
Scott P. Roeder was found guilty of first-degree murder in the 2009 shooting death of George Tiller in the Wichita church where Tiller served as an usher. The Associated Press

The Kansas Supreme Court on Friday upheld the murder conviction in the killing of Wichita abortion doctor George Tiller.

But the court vacated the “Hard 50” life sentence of Scott P. Roeder and ordered the case back to Sedgwick County for resentencing.

Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett said in a written statement Friday that he anticipates seeking a new Hard 50 sentencing hearing for Roeder.

Roeder, 56, was found guilty of first-degree murder in the 2009 shooting death of Tiller in the Wichita church where Tiller served as an usher. Roeder was also found guilty of two counts of aggravated assault for threatening to shoot two other ushers.

His challenge to the convictions on a number of grounds was rejected by the court.

But the justices ruled that Roeder’s sentence of life in prison with no chance of parole for 50 years violated his constitutional rights because it was imposed by a judge and not by a jury.

A 2013 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a Virginia case found that giving judges the sole authority to impose such mandatory minimum sentences was unconstitutional.

That ruling prompted the Kansas Legislature to amend state law to have jurors make that determination.

But in Friday’s ruling in Roeder’s case and in several other cases where Hard 50 sentences were vacated because of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, the Kansas Supreme Court has not addressed whether prosecutors can impanel a new jury to resentence defendants like Roeder to the Hard 50.

Bennett said Friday that he believes the amended Kansas law allows that.

Under Kansas law, the only other sentencing option for first-degree murder is life without parole for 25 years.

To reach Tony Rizzo, call 816-234-4435 or send email to trizzo@kcstar.com.

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