THE BLOG
03/21/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Still Picking the Jury, A Word About Kansas

Still Picking the Jury for Roeder's murder trial in Wichita, Kansas

By Leonard Zeskind

Leonard Zeskind will be following and writing about the trial as it proceeds.

Picking the jury that will vote on whether Scott Roeder murdered Dr. Tiller in the first degree or whether he simply committed voluntary manslaughter is continuing. The voir dire process appears to be fairly thorough. Prospective jurors spend an average of thirty minutes privately discussing their views with the court. They also answer eighty-eight questions on a written firm.

Many of the questions are routine. Several are unusual, however, according to a criminal defense attorney in the neighboring state of Missouri. These include seven questions about religious affiliation and beliefs; and eight questions about news sources, including which magazines they subscribe to, which news channels they watch and whether they believe "there is an ideological bias in the various news sources." Only one question asks about "personal beliefs on abortion." There is also one question about whether or not prospective jurors have been convicted of a felony, but no questions about misdemeanor convictions. Almost all of the 2700 arrests in the Wichita Summer of Mercy in 1991 were for misdemeanors.

While Wichita District Judge Warren Wilbert may seem to be careful when picking a jury panel, there are other reasons to keep a close eye on this case. The judge declined to rule on a motion by Jeanne Tiller to quash a subpoena by Roeder's defense that asked for private medical records of those who had visited Dr. Tiller's clinic. And while the judge said that he did not intend to allow the trial to become a forum for debating abortion, he paid $75 for an advertisement in a Kansas Right to Life newsletter and was endorsed by same in a 2008 election, according to a January 15 Associated Press story. As of Friday, the private questioning of prospects has yielded about 25 potential jurors, and word is that the court has said they want a minimum of 42 from which to draw.

While the selection process continues, perhaps it is time for a word or two about the mostly misunderstood state of Kansas.

The memory of the pre-Civil War Border War with Missouri looms large in Kansas, particularly in the eastern half of the state. Remember that the Border War may have included a fight of (white) brother against (white) brother, as others have remarked, but the battle itself was over whether or not the state would enter the union free or slave. In this war for the soul of Kansas, memory of John Brown should loom large. A magnificent mural of John Brown entitled "Tragic Prelude" was painted by John Curry on the walls inside the capitol building in Topeka. In the town of Osawatomie, a John Brown museum sits in the square. John Brown's fort near the village of Lycene remains as the site of a state park. In Kansas City, Kansas, a statue of John Brown stands most poignantly on a hill above the ruins of the Township of Quindaro--which once served as a stop on the Underground Railroad. Dated from 1911, it is inscribed "...to the Memory of John Brown by A Grateful People."

There are other memories in Kansas. In the 1920s, Klan membership reached 100,000 in the state, according to the authoritative history by David Chalmers, Hooded Americanism. Klan chapters developed in almost every town, according to Chalmers, and Wichita had several dens at one point. Lest anyone think that the Klan went unopposed, Emporia Gazette editor William Allen White campaigned against the racist order with an undiminished and ultimately triumphant ardor. It is White's name that is memorialized at the Kansas University School of Journalism, not some rag tag bigot's.

From the same direction as the Klan came Gerald B. Winrod, who earned the sobriquet the "Jayhawk Nazi." A Wichita fundamentalist, he founded an organization known as Defenders of the Christian Faith. Winrod's Defenders published a monthly bulletin with a subscriber base--much of it in Kansas--of 110,000 in the mid-1930s. He ran in the Republican primaries for United States Senator in 1938 and lost after being badly pummeled by the press for his obnoxious, Hitler-loving views. Nevertheless, he won 53,149 votes in the primary, where "most of his support came from Mennonite communities and from counties where the Ku Klux Klan had thrived," according to Leo Ribuffo's helpful book, The Old Christian Right. Many of these counties surrounded Wichita. Winrod was indicted for sedition during World War Two, went to trial but was never convicted. And more than a few of his Defender's bulletins are probably stashed in the attics of Wichitans, along with others of great grand-pa's papers.

The question of the hour in the trial of Scott Roeder is: how many of Winrod's ideological descendants will make to the jury panel.

--End--