WICHITA, Kan. — After years of investigations and four days of testimony, jurors here took just 45 minutes on Friday to acquit a controversial abortion doctor of charges that he performed 19 illegal late-term abortions in 2003.

Kansas law permits late-term abortions when two independent doctors agree that the pregnant woman would be irreparably harmed by giving birth Prosecutors charged that the doctor, George Tiller, had an improper financial relationship with a doctor from Lawrence, Kristin Neuhaus, who provided a second opinion in the 19 cases cited.

Dr. Tiller’s clinic is one of three in the United States that perform late-term abortions, and he has been reviled by anti-abortion forces for decades. In 1986, a bomb exploded on the roof of his clinic here, Women’s Health Care Services. In 1991, some 2,000 protesters were arrested outside during summer-long protests; in 1993, Dr. Tiller was shot in both arms by an anti-abortion activist while driving away from the clinic. Protests continue there almost daily.

“It’s been a long ordeal for his patients, Dr. Tiller and his family,” the lead defense lawyer, Dan Monnat, said Friday outside the courtroom. “They’re just happy it’s over.” Dr. Tiller could have faced a year in jail and a $2,500 fine on each of 19 counts. Two dozen law officers stationed themselves in the courtroom to maintain order as the verdict was read, and spectators, most of whom identified themselves as abortion opponents, were searched before entering. A few appeared to pray, but there were no outbursts. Anti-abortion protesters demonstrated outside the courthouse all week.

The Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition in Washington, called the verdict “a setback.” Mr. Mahoney said that had jurors voted for conviction, “they would have put him out of business.” But Mr. Mahoney, who had predicted that the trial would “energize” anti-abortion forces, said it was a “very technical case” that was not relevant to other legal and legislative challenges to abortion.

Assistant Attorney General Barry Disney, who prosecuted Dr. Tiller, said the quick verdict probably resulted from the fact that the issue before jurors was clear and concise. “There wasn’t a lot for them to go back there and argue,” Mr. Disney said.

During testimony, both Dr. Tiller and Dr. Neuhaus, the only witness called by prosecutors, denied that there was anything improper about their financial relationship. Dr. Neuhaus testified that she misspoke during a 2006 deposition when she called herself a “full-time consultant” for Dr. Tiller. The trial is not the end of Dr. Tiller’s legal problems. The state Board of Healing Arts is investigating a complaint that mirrors the accusations made in the trial.

The New York Times – By Joe Stumpe