Crime & Courts

Juror beliefs an issue, says defense

Lawyers for the man accused of killing George Tiller have asked a judge for an order prohibiting prosecutors from discriminating against potential jurors based on their religious or anti-abortion beliefs.

The court filing, made public Thursday, offered the first glimpse of the legal strategy being developed by Scott Roeder's court-appointed defense team. Sedgwick County District Judge Warren Wilbert scheduled a hearing on the defense motion for Dec. 9.

Roeder is accused of shooting Tiller on May 31 while the doctor was ushering for Sunday morning services at his Wichita church. He is scheduled for trial Jan. 11 on charges of first-degree murder and aggravated assault.

"The abortion issue is so contentious, that by eliminating pro-life jury panelists impartiality is compromised," attorney Mark Rudy wrote. "It is the contemplation of a heated deliberation, by jurors of all views, including those who are pro-life, that will insure impartial jurors."

Prosecutors will respond to the motion at the December hearing, said Georgia Cole, spokeswoman for the Sedgwick County District Attorney's Office.

In his motion, Rudy argued that peremptory strikes during jury selection based on a person's beliefs or actions against abortion violate the First Amendment because they discriminate against a religious point of view.

Rudy also argued that excluding anti-abortion jurors would violate the Constitution's equal protection clause, deprive Roeder of due process and impede the selection of an impartial jury.

In a phone call Thursday from the Sedgwick County Jail, Roeder said he is "very satisfied" with his public defenders, pleased they filed the motion and thought it was well thought out.

"It seems like a plausible move... just something that hopefully would not bar anyone from being on the jury because of the fact that they are pro-life," he said.

Roeder said he can't afford to hire his own attorney, but there are "other possibilities in the works" to find a lawyer who will take his case for free.

Some supporters are still trying to raise money for his defense after eBay said Tuesday that it would block a planned auction of anti-abortion memorabilia because it violates the company's policy on offensive materials.

Abortion opponents want to hire an attorney who would present a justifiable homicide, or so-called affirmative action defense, arguing the killing was justified to protect unborn children. They hope to appeal Roeder's case to the U.S. Supreme Court as part of an effort to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Auction organizer Regina Dinwiddie said her attorney wrote eBay a letter telling the company that if it takes down the auction listings it would be discriminating against her and using unfair commercial practices. The online auction company did not respond to telephone and e-mail messages seeking comment Thursday.

Dave Leach, an abortion opponent from Des Moines, said Thursday that the group is also trying to find other online auctions or buy online auction software in case it can't use eBay.