Man says he saw alleged killer in church

Associated Press / January 26, 2010

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WICHITA, Kan. - Jurors hearing the case of a man charged with killing prominent abortion provider Dr. George Tiller heard the word abortion for the first time yesterday, when an usher testified about seeing protesters at the church the doctor had attended.

District Attorney Nola Foulston first said the word abortion during the second day of testimony in the trial of Scott Roeder when she asked usher Keith Martin about numerous protests at Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita, where Tiller was shot to death on May 31.

Prosecutors previously had avoided using the word abortion in front of jurors, trying to focus on the facts - a doctor gunned down in his church - rather than allow the trial to become a debate over abortion.

Roeder, 51, has publicly admitted he killed Tiller but has pleaded not guilty to charges of first-degree murder and aggravated assault in the case. The Kansas City, Mo., man said in a court filing that the trial would be a “charade’’ if he were not allowed to argue that the killing was necessary to save “preborn babies’’ from abortion.

Martin testified that he saw Roeder at the church a half dozen times before the shooting. Unlike other churchgoers, Roeder always brought his own Bible and sat by himself, Martin said.

He also testified that protests had made church members suspicious of newcomers even before the shooting.

Foulston asked him if the protests appeared to be “involving the position on abortion.’’ Martin said they seemed to be. He related at least five instances since 1991 in which visitors had disrupted the service.

Still, Martin said, he didn’t closely watch Roeder the day Tiller was shot because he had seen Roeder before at services without incident.