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Law

Jury selection begins in Rudolph trial

Suspect charged in Birmingham women's clinic bombing

By Henry Schuster
CNN

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BIRMINGHAM, Alabama (CNN) -- Prospective jurors in the federal trial of Eric Rudolph, the man accused of bombing an Alabama women's clinic in 1998, were asked to outline their views on abortion and the death penalty as jury selection began Wednesday.

Rudolph faces the possibility of the death penalty if he is convicted of the January 1998 bombing of the clinic in Birmingham where abortions were performed. The explosion claimed the life of a police officer, and injured a nurse.

He faces separate federal charges in four bombings in Atlanta, Georgia -- one during the 1996 Summer Olympics, two at a suburban women's clinic that performed abortions, and one at a lesbian nightclub.

Jury selection is taking place in the ballroom of the downtown Birmingham Sheraton Hotel instead of a federal courtroom because the venue can accommodate the 500 prospective jurors summoned to fill out a questionnaire.

Court officials said they chose the hotel because only one federal courtroom in the city is large enough to hold that many prospective jurors and it is being used in another high-profile case.

Prosecutors would not say how many of the 500 prospective jurors summoned for the case showed up, but said there were enough to get proceedings under way. Some prospective jurors had been excused in advance.

Those who did appear were asked to complete questionnaires that included questions about the death penalty and abortion and were sent home after filling in those surveys.

A smaller number will be called back to federal court in mid-May to be individually questioned about the case by U.S. District Judge Lynwood Smith, prosecutors and defense attorneys.

It could take between two to three weeks beyond that to seat a jury, according to court officials.

Although the questions won't be made public until a jury is seated, Smith has indicated he wanted the questionnaire modeled after the one used in the trial of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.

The tentative date for opening statements is June 9, according to federal court officials.

Attorneys on both sides of the case have already been fighting over the forensic evidence. Defense attorneys spent much of last week arguing before Smith that bomb reconstructions should be excluded.

Smith has not yet ruled on their request.

Prosecutors have laid out some of their case in a series of court documents.

Prosecutors say they will prove that on the morning of January 29, 1998, the 38-year-old Rudolph deliberately planted a bomb disguised as a flowerpot in front of the New Woman All Women Health Care Clinic.

When Robert Sanderson, an off-duty Birmingham police officer working as a security guard at the clinic, apparently discovered the device, they will argue, Rudolph used a remote control to detonate the bomb.

Sanderson, 35, died in the blast. Nurse Emily Lyons, who was 41 at the time, was wounded.

The prosecution will also offer testimony from two witnesses it says will place Rudolph in Birmingham the day of the bombing.

One of the witnesses, a medical student, has told investigators that he saw a man leaving the scene of the explosion. He followed the man and later was able to write down a license plate number when the man got in a gray Nissan pickup truck.

The truck was later traced to Rudolph, but he disappeared from his home in Murphy, North Carolina. Rudolph eluded federal authorities for more than five years before his arrest May 31, 2003.

The defense says it will offer its own explanation of why Rudolph became a fugitive, saying it had nothing to do with guilt.


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