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Below are the first two installments of coverage of the Tiller Trial, these covering the first two days of jury selection:

Kansas Liberty: 16 March 2009

Monnat arrives with the defense’s bench: five assistants, including a former U.S. attorney.

Tiller trial jury selection previews lawyers and arguments
An unusually protracted process of choosing a jury for the trial of Wichita abortionist Dr. George Tiller began Monday morning at the Sedgwick County Courthouse, and will likely continue through Wednesday afternoon.
Tiller is charged with 19 misdemeanor counts of violating state laws regulating late-term abortions by seeking a required second opinion from a physician with whom he had an improper financial or legal affiliation.

Although Tiller’s defense team had sought a 12-member jury, misdemeanor cases in Kansas require only six jurors and two alternates.

Normally, their selection is  accomplished in short order with little public attention, but  the emotionally charged nature of the trial and Tiller’s local and national fame – or notoriety, depending on one’s perspective – made this case conspicuously different.

Careful questioning. Sedgwick County District Court Judge Clark Owens and attorneys on both sides of the case exercised painstaking caution in questioning a casually clad random sampling of 15 Sedgwick Countians who had been called to the jury pool.  The questioning prompted a few laughs as well as the occasional poignant moment, and offered broad hints about the arguments that will eventually be made in the trial phrase.

Two hours after the scheduled starting time, prosecuting attorney Barry Disney and lead defense attorney Daniel Monnat introduced themselves to the prospective jurors, leading to the first clash of the day. When Monnat attempted to explain the five assistants sitting with him in the courtroom, including former U.S. Attorney Lee Thompson, by noting that the prosecution was also assisted by experts, Disney leapt to object that he had no such assistance.

Owens then read the first of the 19 charges, stemming from an abortion Tiller had performed on a 24-year-old patient in her 29th week of pregnancy, but declined to the read the rest, explaining they were all essentially the same charge.

Making friends with the jury. Disney got the first chance to address the potential jurors, and took the opportunity  to ingratiate himself to the pool by describing his background as a native Wichitan and longtime local prosecutor.

Checking if anyone in the pool might know any members of his large family, Disney elicited a laugh by adding, “It’s probably a good thing if you don’t know any of my brothers.” He also stressed that the case should be decided solely on the evidence he planned to present, and cautioned the potential jurors not to let their feelings about abortion influence their judgment.

Recalling how he had first become aware of the abortion issue as a 13-year-old sitting in his family’s station wagon and hearing a radio news report about the Roe vs. Wade decision that had just been issued by the Supreme Court, Disney said that “station wagons have long since been replaced by mini-vans, but the abortion debate goes on. This trial, though, is about whether or not the defendant has violated the law.”

‘What the trial is about.’ Disney then explained the case with the aid of a poster that showed a long line marking the length of a pregnancy, with “viability” marked along the line. Beneath the pre-viability period, a box explained that abortion was legal with “No reason needed.” Beneath the post-viability sign, it stated that abortion was legal only when the health of the mother was endangered, the opinion of a second Kansas physician verified the threat to the mother and when the second physician was not “legally or financially affiliated” with the doctor performing the abortion.

The third requirement, Disney said, “is what this trial is about.”

One member of the jury pool, a Cambodian immigrant who said he had lived in Wichita for 19 years, was quickly dismissed when it became apparent during Disney’s questioning that he had a limited command of the English language. Another man, wearing a camouflaged Army jacket, was dismissed after angrily insisting, “I don’t want to be in the middle of no ‘he said-she said.’ I don’t want to be a part of it.”

A middle-aged woman was reluctantly excused by Owens after she told Disney that she didn’t believe she could be fair to Tiller because of her strong opposition to abortion. With apparent emotion, she said she believed “everyone is entitled to a fair trial,” and that she thought she would be looking for reasons to find him guilty. She then looked toward Tiller and said “No offense.” As she exited the courtroom past the defendant’s table, she briefly touched Tiller’s shoulder and softly said, “I’m sorry.”

The remaining members of the jury pool each insisted, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, that they would be able to set aside their opinions about abortion and be unbiased jurors. A wiry man in jeans and a cowboy shirt said “I feel I can be fair. My biggest concern is that my job doesn’t pay me when I’m on jury duty.”

Monnat’s chance. After an hour-and-a-half lunch break that was extended another hour by in-chambers legal wrangling, Monnat had his chance to question the pool. Known as a formidable defense attorney in local legal circles, Monnat also seized the chance to ingratiate himself, noting his own humble Wichita boyhood before introducing his wife, an attractive martial-arts instructor.

After introducing Tiller’s wife, he spoke of the defendant’s long career in Wichita, and how Tiller’s father and two of his daughters were also doctors. Much of Monnat’s questioning concerned the potential jurors’ hobbies, including one beefy man’s weightlifting, another’s “extreme sports” passions, and a young mother’s family roller-staking excursions.

He also questioned the remaining 12 about their opinions regarding abortion, and heard more assurances that no one would be prejudiced against Tiller. One man explained, “To be honest, I have no opinion. I don’t follow much what goes on in the paper.”

More specific questions foreshadowed what would likely be introduced as evidence in the trial. Flashing a graphic on a screen with help of one of his assistants, Monnat explained that the prosecution will not dispute that in each of the 19 abortions involved in the case, there was “a proper determination of viability,” that there was also an undisputed “documented referral from a second Kansas physician” and that there would be no dispute that there was a risk of “substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function.”

All that was disputed, Monnat said, was that the second physician did not have a legal or financial affiliation with Tiller.

Monnat then asked the jurors if they could define a “legal or financial affiliation” in precise legal terms, and all admitted they could not. He then asked how they might proceed to find out, prompting them to say they would consult a lawyer, then asked if they felt they should be prosecuted if the legal advice proved incorrect.

Both Monnat and Disney also elicited responses suggesting that some of the jurors had unfavorable opinions of former Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline, who gathered some of the evidence being used in the case. Kline’s handling of that evidence was sharply criticized in a State Supreme Court opinion, even as the opinion upheld the use of that evidence.

Before adjournment, Owens advised the pool members that they would be called back Wednesday, after more potential jurors are questioned Tuesday.

- Bud Norman

Kansas Liberty: 17 March 2009

Fifteen more citizens questioned on everything from friends to hobbies

Two more prospective jurors dismissed on second day of Tiller trial
Another group of potential jurors for the trial of Dr. George Tiller was questioned Tuesday at the Sedgwick County Courthouse, the second day of jury selection for the high-profile case.
Tiller is charged with 19 misdemeanor counts of performing late term abortions after obtaining the second opinion of a doctor with whom he had an improper legal or financial affiliation.

As on the first day of proceedings, Sedgwick County District Court Judge Clark Owens and the attorneys on both sides of the case exercised greater-than-usual caution in their efforts to select the six jurors and two alternates who will hear the case beginning next Monday.

The pool of 15 randomly selected citizens was questioned about everything from possibility familiarity with the people involved in the case to their professional backgrounds to their hobbies.

Two members of the pool were dismissed. One was a woman who explained that she had been raised Catholic, had a mother and sister who had protested at Tiller’s clinic, and that she did not believe she could set aside her feelings about abortion and render an impartial verdict. Another woman had been dismissed for similar reasons Monday.

Thus far, none of the potential jurors have expressed doubts that their support for abortion rights would cause them to be impartial.

Proceedings resume Wednesday morning, when lawyers on both sides will be allowed to strike jurors they believe might be biased against their case.

- Bud Norman

More installments will be coming each day they are available while Tiller is on trial. Do take advantage of the special officer KansasLiberty.com is offering KFL members, again, here: http://kansasliberty.com/MichaelDoyle

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