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Tiller Jury Taking Shape

Defense attorneys hint at their strategy while questioning potential jurors.

Potential jurors in the trial of George Tiller were told Monday to set aside their personal views about abortion, and at least one was dismissed after she said she couldn’t.

“This trial is not a debate about abortion,” Assistant Attorney General Barry Disney told prospective jurors as jury selection began in Sedgwick County District Court. “It is not about whether abortion is right or wrong…. This trial is about whether the defendant has violated the law.”

Tiller, one of the nation’s few late-term abortion providers, is charged with 19 misdemeanors alleging he failed to obtain a second opinion for late-term abortions from an independent physician, as required by Kansas law. If convicted, he could face a year in jail or a fine of $2,500 for each misdemeanor charge.

Defense attorney Dan Monnat hinted at the defense strategy while questioning the potential jurors by saying Tiller has never been “knowingly or intentionally” financially affiliated with the doctor who provided second opinions.

Tiller’s defense attorneys say he is innocent and have called his prosecution a “hyper-technical political trial.” They have said they will appeal if he is convicted.

Tiller and his clinic have been a target of abortion opponents for decades. His clinic was bombed in 1985, and an abortion opponent shot him in both arms in 1993.

Wichita also was the site of the 45-day “Summer of Mercy” event staged by Operation Rescue in 1991. Those mass demonstrations and clinic blockades led to more than 2,600 arrests.

Abortion opponents plan prayer vigils during the trial. Several prayed outside the courthouse Monday. Abortion-rights supporters also plan demonstrations.

Disney told prospective jurors that prosecutors and defense attorneys agree that Tiller performed the 19 late-term abortions and that he was required to obtain a second, independent opinion. Jurors need only decide whether Ann Kristin Neuhaus, the doctor who provided Tiller with second opinions, had a financial or legal relationship with him, Disney said.

Neuhaus, who has been granted immunity from prosecution, could testify.

One potential juror was dismissed after she said she was biased against Tiller and would find it hard to let go of her anti-abortion views.

Another was let go after he insisted he didn’t “want to be a part of it,” saying he has seen too much about the case in the media. A third man was dismissed because he did not understand English well.

Jury selection continues today and Wednesday.

All content © 2009 THE WICHITA EAGLE and may not be republished without permission.

By ROXANA HEGEMAN
Associated Press