Crime & Courts

Jury may get special instruction in Roeder trial

Fearing jurors may think they are in danger during the murder trial of a man charged with killing Wichita abortion provider George Tiller, Scott Roeder's defense asked Friday for the trial judge to issue special instructions when panelists are questioned as a group.

Sedgwick County District Judge Warren Wilbert has ordered jurors to receive numbers when they enter the next stage of questioning, probably next week, in the first-degree murder trial of Roeder. That part of the selection process is open to the public.

Roeder's public defenders, however, said that move could cause potential jurors to draw conclusions about why they are not being called by name.

The defense said that without proper instructions, jurors "will consider the defendant's participation in a group with the capacity to harm jurors," attorney Mark Rudy said in his motion filed Friday.

Rudy's motion said numbered juries have been used in trials of reputed organized crime members.

"The jury may be left to speculate about the dangers," Rudy said, compromising their duty to presume Roeder innocent.

Rudy offered several examples of possible special instructions, including:

* Telling jurors that the procedure of referring to them by numbers is being employed to reduce the possibility that the media or others interested in this case might try to contact them.

* Telling jurors, "The use of numbers instead of names should in no way be interpreted as a reflection of the defendant's guilt or innocence."

Lawyers are in their third day of interviewing jurors individually and in private, asking them about issues such as their personal beliefs on abortion. By Friday, 25 had passed legal challenges to remain on the panel.

More than 40 are needed to move into the next stage, where they will receive numbers and be questioned as a group. Wilbert has ordered that part of jury selection open to the public after four news outlets filed legal action to open the process earlier this week.

At least 42 jurors must be qualified before each side exercises preemptory strikes, where jurors may be dismissed for almost any reason, other than those protected by law including race and gender. The prosecution and defense will each get 14 preemptory strikes, leaving the final panel of 12 jurors and two alternates.