The trial of the man accused of fatally shooting late-term abortionist George Tiller opened Friday without mention of the “a-word” in front of jurors.
Though the team defending Scott Roeder is expected to argue that the 51-year-old Kansas native believed he was preventing the further deaths of unborn children when he shot and killed Dr. George Tiller last year, District Judge Warren Wilbert has made it clear that the trial will not turn into a debate over abortion.
At one point Friday, Wilbert stopped defense attorney Mark Rudy from using the word “abortion” when cross-examining a witness who had not first used it himself.
If the witness brings it up "that's fair game, and you can explore it," Wilbert said, according to The Associated Press.
In keeping to the judge’s repeated orders to keep the case a "criminal, first-degree murder trial," lawyers focused Friday on eyewitness testimony, recordings of 911 calls and photos of Tiller's body lying in a pool of blood in his the foyer of his church in Wichita.
While prosecutors will attempt to convince the jury to convict Roeder of first-degree murder and hand him a life sentence, Roeder’s defense team will be trying to build a case for a conviction on the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter, which in Kansas is defined as "an unreasonable but honest belief that circumstances existed that justified deadly force."
In a 30-minute phone interview last November, Roeder told The Associated Press that "defending innocent life" was what prompted him to shoot 67-year-old Tiller.
"Because of the fact preborn children's lives were in imminent danger this was the action I chose," Roeder had said.
"We all have a sense of duty and obligation to protect innocent life. If anybody is in a situation where they can, I think it is their obligation," he added.
Though George Tiller was widely scorned for being one of the nation's few providers of late-term abortions, the pro-life community was quick to condemn his murder and distance themselves from Roeder.
Dr. Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission denounced the killing of the abortion provider as “unbiblical, unchristian and un-American.”
The national pro-life women’s group Susan B. Anthony List, meanwhile, strongly condemned the shooting as an “anti-life act.”
“The rights of one human being can never be honored by diminishing or ignoring the rights of another,” said Susan B. Anthony List president Majorie Dannenfelser.
Under Kansas sentencing guidelines, a conviction for voluntary manslaughter for someone with as little criminal history as Roeder would result in a sentence around five years.
On Friday, Roeder’s attorneys deferred their opening statement, keeping their defense strategy under wraps for as long as they can.
They will make the statement when they are ready to present their entire case.