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Hearings begin in trial of bombing suspect Eric Rudolph

Hearings begin in trial of bombing suspect Eric Rudolph

Federal prosecutors preparing to try Eric Rudolph for a fatal abortion clinic blast want to show jurors that the serial-bombing suspect had ties to a Tennessee church led by an antiabortion activist. Rudolph could face the death penalty if convicted in the 1998 Birmingham bombing, which killed an off-duty police officer and critically injured a nurse. He also faces charges for the bombing that killed a woman during the Atlanta Olympics in 1996 and bombings in metro Atlanta in 1997, including one that injured people at a gay nightclub. Rudolph was captured in 2003 after more than five years on the run. In court papers filed during the weekend, prosecutors said Rudolph's "expressed antiabortion views and his association with antiabortion activists will clearly help set the stage for the crime, give it context, and help the jury understand the reasons" for it. The defense objects to the evidence as irrelevant and as a violation of Rudolph's First Amendment rights. The defense also is trying to limit evidence about Rudolph's "negative views about the government, African-Americans, Jews, and homosexuals," according to officials. Prosecutors claim such attitudes were "inextricably linked" to Rudolph's views against abortion. A hearing on the proposed evidence was set for Tuesday in Huntsville, Ala. Preliminary jury selection for Rudolph's trial is set for April 6. Opening statements may not begin until early June. Prosecutors indicated they want to introduce testimony about Rudolph's association with a fundamentalist church in Benton, Tenn., led by Dr. John Grady, an early activist against abortion in Florida. In a telephone interview Monday, Grady, 74, told the Associated Press he did not recall Rudolph ever visiting his small congregation, "but that certainly doesn't mean he didn't." The congregation, which he described as Catholic, lacks a full-time priest, and Grady said he serves as a lay leader. Grady, who has written a booklet offered for sale by antiabortion groups, said he is "very much opposed to abortion" and called it the "crime of the century." But implying that his beliefs could fuel Rudolph to bomb an abortion clinic is "really stretching it," he said. Grady said he does not expect to testify in Rudolph's trial. Separately, prosecutors suggested Rudolph may have financed the bombing by growing marijuana around his home in western North Carolina.

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