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George Tiller Murder Trial: Are Prosecutors Trying to Silence Abortion Foe, Killer?

(AP/Mike Hutmacher, Wichita Eagle)
(AP Photo/Jaime Oppenheimer)
(AP/Travis Heying, Wichita Eagle)
WICHITA, Kan. (CBS/AP) Scott Roeder says he murdered George Tiller, one of the nation's few late-term abortion doctors, to protect "preborn babies," but prosecutors are trying to prevent his defense team from being able to make that argument to get a lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter.

Photo: George Tiller March 2009, just two months before he was killed.

Jury selection was scheduled to begin Monday Jan. 10 but has now been delayed until possibly Wednesday so the judge could hear arguments from both sides.

Prosecutors are trying to prevent Roeder from being able to present his abortion views in court as well as prevent him from getting the lighter sentence that voluntary manslaughter carries.

Photo: Scott Roeder in court July 2009.

The abortion issue will still loom heavily over the trial and jury selection is expected to take at least a week and at least 300 prospective jurors will be summoned. Each side is allowed only 14 strikes but the judge has said that any juror that shows a clear opinion one way or another will be eliminated without costing either side.

Jury consultant Philip Anthony, who is not involved with the case, says that this will quickly narrow the field but says the unstated biases that even the potential jurors may not be aware of pose the biggest challenge.

Photo: George Tiller's body is removed from Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita, Kan., May 31, 2009.

"Even if they haven't stopped to think about it in their lives, at the end of the day they probably have an opinion," Anthony said.

Regardless of when the trial starts, a few national anti-abortion groups, like Operation Rescue, have said they won't be anywhere near the courtroom. Troy Newman, the leader of Operation Rescue, whose headquarters are a few miles from the courthouse, says he will probably be at his desk, as usual, and certainly nowhere near the trial.

"This trial isn't meaningful for the movement," Mr. Newman told The New York Times. "What happened is antithetical to the Christian cause and to the stated foundation principles of pro-life."

Roeder, 51, of Kansas City, Mo., is charged with first-degree murder for shooting Dr. George Tiller on May 31 as he served as an usher at his church in Wichita, Kan. Roeder is also charged with two counts of aggravated assault for allegedly pointing a gun at two ushers who tried to stop him after the shooting.

Roeder has admitted to reporters and in a court filing that he killed Tiller to save "unborn children."

Over 100 journalists, along with their satellite trucks, are expected to converge on Wichita, that has for decades been at the fulcrum of the abortion issue. Tiller's clinic was heavily fortified after a bombing attempt in 1986 and his dedication to abortion rights was not tempered after he was shot in both arms by an activist in 1993.

Tiller was also not a stranger to the defendant's table. In recent years anti-abortion activists have tried to get to him through the legal system, signing petitions to force Sedgwick County to convene grand juries in 2006 and 2008 to investigate him, but both refused to indict him.

Two state attorneys general tried to prosecute him and just two months before his death he was acquitted on misdemeanor charges accusing him of failing to get an independent second opinion for late term abortions.

The trial is expected to last at least two weeks once the jury is seated.

December 22, 2009 - Scott Roeder's Defense: I Killed Abortion Doctor George Tiller to Protect "Preborn Children"
November 10, 2009 - Roeder Admits Killing Kansas Abortion Doctor George Tiller; Says He Has No Regrets
October 26, 2009 - What Will EBay Do? Anti-Abortion Auction Slated for Alleged Killer of Abortion Doctor George Tiller
June 11, 2009 - Abortion Foes Want To Buy Slain Abortion Doc's Clinic
June 8, 2009 - Alleged Abortion Doc Killer Says More Murders Planned
June 4, 2009 - PETA Places Billboards In Wake Of Tiller Murder
June 2, 2009 - Man Charged With Killing Abortion Doc Has Long Anti-Gov History
June 2, 2009 - Abortion Debate Rages: Tiller Called "Mass Murderer"
June 2, 2009 - Abortion Foes Fear Backlash To Tiller's Slaying
June 1, 2009 - Abortion Doctor Murdered In Church, Suspect Jailed