WICHITA, Kan. – A man charged with shooting a prominent Kansas doctor who performed late-term abortions has been advocating through mailings from his jail cell that such killings are justifiable and communicating with individuals on the fringes of the anti-abortion movement, weeks after suggesting others might be planning similar attacks.
Scott Roeder, 51, is charged with first-degree murder and aggravated assault in the May 31 death of Dr. George Tiller — an attack that reignited the national debate over late-term abortion and gave Roeder icon status among extremists in the anti-abortion movement.
From his cell in Sedgwick County jail, Roeder has been sending anti-abortion pamphlets that laud Paul Hill, who was convicted of murdering an abortion provider in 1994, as an "American hero," and include examples of Hill's writings about how the killing of abortion providers is justifiable.
Hill was executed in 2003 for killing Dr. John Bayard Britton and his bodyguard outside a Pensacola, Fla., abortion clinic.
Roeder has also been corresponding with Rev. Donald Spitz — whose Army of God group's Web site celebrates Hill and who says he sent Roeder seven of the pamphlets at Roeder's request — and Linda Wolfe, an Oregon activist who has been jailed about 50 times for anti-abortion activities and who is close friends with a woman convicted of shooting Tiller in the arms in 1993. She says Roeder mailed her one of the pamphlets.
No one has accused Roeder of breaking any laws because of his jailhouse correspondence. But local and federal law enforcement agencies took seriously a threat Roeder made during a June 7 interview with The Associated Press that there are "many other similar events planned around the country as long as abortion remains legal." A judge raised Roeder's bond to $20 million, citing his comment to the AP, after a prosecutor argued Roeder's ability to get his message widely disseminated should lead a reasonable person to believe he is engaged in "alleged acts of American terrorism."
FBI and Justice Department officials declined to comment about whether they were concerned about Roeder's jailhouse contacts. The Sedgwick County public defender's office, which is representing Roeder, did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment. And the Sedgwick County District Attorney's office declined to speak about the matter.
Sedgwick County Sheriff Robert Hinshaw said he has assigned a trusted person to read all of Roeder's incoming and outgoing mail. He said Roeder has received about 100 letters.
Jail officials typically check incoming mail for contraband such as pornography or drugs but do not attempt to read all of the more than 97,000 pieces of mail inmates get each year unless there is a specific concern, such as in Roeder's case. Outgoing mail is normally sealed by inmates and not read by prison officials.
Unless there is a blatant concern in an outgoing letter, such as escape plans, inmate mail is not censored. Less obvious issues are referred to the department's law department for review because of First Amendment concerns, the sheriff said.
"Everyone in this jail has all the constitutional rights, except those I can restrict for the safety and security of the facility," Hinshaw said.
Angel Dillard, a Christian music songwriter from Valley Center, Kan., said she's been questioned several times since striking up a friendship with Roeder after the Tiller shooting.
"They just wanted to check us out and make sure we weren't some nuts that were planning to pick up where Roeder left off," Dillard said. "We have no plans to do anything of violence to anyone. We are reaching out to someone who we know is totally alone right now."
Dillard and her husband have exchanged several letters with Roeder and spoken to him by phone, and she plans to visit him next week. She said Roeder has not spoken about Tiller's killing, and has only shared Biblical scripture and asked her to pray for an end to abortion.
Spitz — whose Web site likens Tiller to Adolf Hitler and features multiple essays supporting "defensive action" and justifiable homicide — said he had never heard of Roeder until Roeder's arrest and said they have never spoken specifically about the Tiller shooting.
"He did that out of the blue, came out of nowhere — a run-of-the-mill, pro-life guy and he goes out and does this," Spitz said of the alleged shooter. "He is not a run-of-the-mill, pro-life guy any more though."
Spitz, who said he became a good friend of Hill's before his execution, said he sent Roeder seven pamphlets advocating justifiable homicide that Roeder wanted to mail others. He said authorities had not contacted him about Roeder and that he has no plans to kill an abortion doctor himself.
"You have to be called to do that because when one does that your life is basically over," Spitz said.
Linda Wolfe, an anti-abortion advocate from McMinnville, Ore., who is friends with Shelley Shannon, who shot Tiller in both arms 16 years ago, said Roeder mailed her a pamphlet after she mailed him a $20 money order and a letter telling him why she no longer believed killing abortion providers was justifiable.
She said Roeder asked her to pass the pamphlet along to someone else if she agreed with it, or to mail it back to him if she didn't. She said she threw it out.
"If he knew me, he wouldn't send me a pamphlet on Paul Hill — who I saw on death row," Wolfe said, explaining Hill had been a friend.