May 31, 2009
WICHITA, Kansas — Dr. George Tiller, a Kansas doctor whose clinic received national attention for performing late-term abortions, was shot to death as he entered his Wichita church on Sunday.
“Members of the congregation who were inside the sanctuary at the time of the shooting were being kept inside the church by police,” the Wichita Eagle reported, “and those arriving were being ushered into the parking lot.”
Media reports said the suspected killer fled the scene in a white or blue Taurus. Police described him as a white male in his 50s or 60s.
Tiller has been among the few U.S. physicians performing late-term abortion, making him a favored target of anti-abortion protesters. He testified that he and his family have suffered years of harassment and threats. His clinic was the site of the 1991 “Summer of Mercy” protests marked by mass demonstrations and arrests. His clinic was bombed in 1985, and an abortion opponent shot him in both arms in 1993.
Tiller was acquitted in March of misdemeanor charges stemming from procedures he performed, but moments after the verdict the state’s medical board announced it was investigating allegations against him that are nearly identical to those the jury had rejected.
Prosecutors had alleged that Tiller had in 2003 gotten second opinions from a doctor who was essentially an employee of his, not independent as state law requires, but a jury took only about an hour to find him not guilty of all 19 counts.
Tiller, who could have faced a year in jail for even one conviction, stared straight ahead as the verdicts were read, with one of his attorneys patting his shoulder after the decision on the final count was declared. His wife, seated across the courtroom, fought back tears and nodded. The couple declined to speak to reporters afterward.
Tiller, 67, has claimed that the prosecution was politically motivated. An attorney general who opposed abortion rights began the investigation into Tiller’s clinic more than four years ago, but both his successor, who filed the criminal charges, and the current attorney general support abortion rights.