Scott Roeder, the man who murdered abortion provider George Tiller in 2009, is set to stay in prison for a long time to come, despite concerns about the outcome of his first-degree murder appeal. On Friday, the Kansas Supreme Court upheld Roeder's first-degree murder conviction, as well as two counts of aggravated assault for threatening to shoot two ushers at Tiller's church the day of the murder. But the court vacated Roeder's current life sentence without parole for 50 years, finding that such mandatory minimum sentences -- known as a "Hard 50" sentence -- cannot be handed down by a judge.
According to the Kansas City Star, the justices found Roeder's Hard 50 sentence in violation of his constitutional rights, as it was imposed by a judge and not a jury. The court cited a 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision that found it unconstitutional for judges to hand down such strict mandatory minimum sentences, which in turn prompted Kansas legislators to amend state law after Roeder's conviction. The new law will now apply in Roeder's resentencing hearing, though it is yet unclear whether Kansas prosecutors can impanel new juries for defendants whose sentences have been vacated in light of the SCOTUS ruling.
Reuters reports that prosecutors plan to seek another Hard 50 sentence from a jury, which they believe the new state law still allows. The other possible sentencing option for first-degree murder is life without parole for 25 years; as Roeder's convictions stands, that means he still will not be released any time soon. During trial, the defense argued that a jury should have been allowed to consider a voluntary manslaughter charge instead of first-degree murder, as Roeder claimed he killed Tiller -- who was one of a handful of doctors in the country to perform late-term abortions -- to prevent abortions.