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Feds investigating abortion doctor killing

Abortions Epicenter
Dr. George Tiller had been the target of a relentless protest campaign for most of the 36 years that he performed abortions at his Wichita, Kan., clinic.  Larry Smith / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

The Justice Department said Friday it will investigate whether the gunman who killed a Kansas doctor who provided abortions had accomplices.

The department will investigate possible federal crimes in connection with Dr. George Tiller's slaying at his church on Sunday in Wichita, Kan. State prosecutors have already ruled out seeking the death penalty against the accused gunman, but federal prosecutors did not rule out doing so as they announced their own investigation.

"The Department of Justice will work tirelessly to determine the full involvement of any and all actors in this horrible crime," said Loretta King, head of the department's civil rights division.

Anyone who played a role in the killing, she said, will be prosecuted "to the full extent of federal law."

The department will seek to determine if the killing violated a 1994 law creating criminal penalties for violent or damaging conduct toward abortion providers and their patients.

Wichita Police Chief Norman Williams said his investigation of the case would continue and run parallel to the federal effort.

Dan Monnat, an attorney for the Tiller family, said he welcomes "any investigation that will assist in determining all persons who encouraged or assisted this horrible act and result in their prosecution."

Police have charged 51-year-old Scott Roeder with Tiller's death. After the killing, U.S. Marshals began providing security to some abortion providers and clinics around the country.

Tiller's funeral is scheduled for Saturday, and U.S. Marshals spokesman Jeff Carter said federal deputies "are committed to ensuring every individual wishing to mourn Dr. Tiller's passing can do so in a safe and secure environment."

Roeder is charged with first-degree murder and is being held on $5 million bond at Sedgwick County Jail.

Big crowd expected for funeral
He called The Associated Press from the jail Thursday.

"I haven't been convicted of anything, and I am being treated as a criminal," Roeder said.

If convicted of the state murder charge, Roeder would face a mandatory life sentence and would not be eligible for parole for at least 25 years.

On Saturday, hundreds were expected to gather for Tiller's funeral, which will be at a different Wichita church. Its pastor, the Rev. John Martin, said that "the grief is intensified" because Tiller was killed in a house of worship.

"We all know that shootings happen in church, I am always disconcerted when they do. Suddenly, it really struck home," said Martin.

Members of the Topeka-based Westboro Baptist Church, the group infamous for picketing funerals of slain soldiers, have announced plans to protest, but other anti-abortion groups say they do not plan to attend the funeral.

"The best thing I can do," said Troy Newman, president of the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, "is to stay away."