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Wednesday, April 7, 2010 as of 11:14 AM ET

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Kelly Burke

Denver, CO

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Tiller Killer Trial Finally Underway

January 13, 2010 - 5:14 PM | by: Kelly Burke

Following last minute delays the trial of Scott Roeder finally got underway today. The 51 year old Roeder is accused of gunning down abortion doctor George Tiller at a Wichita, Kansas church last May. Roeder later confessed to the killing, claiming he did it to prevent the future deaths of unborn children at Tiller’s Wichita clinic.

Sedgwick County District Judge Warren Wilbert allowed jury selection in the case to begin after reversing an earlier ruling barring the public and media from being present for that portion of the trial. His reversal came after the Kansas Supreme Court Tuesday night ordered Wilbert to find a way to balance the need to protect potential jurors privacy in the sensitive case with the public’s right to know.

Wednesday morning Wilbert told jury candidates to go home and return in the afternoon so he could hold a hearing on the matter. During the closed hearing Wilbert ruled that the jury selection process would be open, except for when prospective jurors were asked questions of a “sensitive personal nature.” That “sensitive” questioning would take place first, without the media being present, until the current jury pool of 61 is whittled down to 42 at which point the media will be allowed in.

Judge Warren Wilbert had originally scheduled jury selection in the case to begin at 10a.m. Monday. Jury candidates who showed up at the courthouse that morning were told to go home and return today. The delay allowed Wilbert time to hold a hearing Tuesday on whether to allow the defense to pursue a lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter for Roeder. Prosecutors had asked for the hearing to offer further legal arguments to convince the judge to block the defense from trying to inject testimony or evidence that might prompt the judge to instruct the jury before deliberations begin that they could consider the lesser charge. Under Kansas law a defendant can be convicted of voluntary manslaughter if they can prove they held an “unreasonable but honest belief” that they had to use force to protect another.

After hearing arguments from both sides on the issue Wilbert declined, “at this time,” to issue a ruling on the prosecution request. He pointed out that, “It depends upon the evidence produced during the course of this trial, which I will rule as we go, on a witness by witness or even a question by question basis whether it’s admissible or not.” Wilbert cautioned that his refusal to rule on the issue “at this time” should not be construed as an indication that he was considering such an instruction. “This is how trials proceed,” he explained, “we don’t fast forward, we don’t jump to conclusions and we don’t arrive at the end of the process without a full and complete and hopefully impartial hearing.” Wilbert also reiterated his determination prevent the trial from becoming a debate on the issue of abortion.

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