Trial Begins For Suspect Behind Abortion Clinic Anthrax Hoaxes

By JOHN NOLAN, Associated Press Writer

CINCINNATI (AP) - A jury was picked Monday to consider firearms and stolen-car charges against a man suspected of mailing fake anthrax letters to abortion clinics nationwide.

Clayton Lee Waagner, 45, is representing himself in federal court and did not speak during the selection of 12 jurors and four alternates.

Waagner (pictured, above) is accused of possessing stolen guns and a stolen car when he was captured Dec. 5 in suburban Springdale and could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted.

U.S. District Judge Susan Dlott dismissed the jurors after they were sworn in and said opening statements would be held Tuesday morning. Dlott said she had already planned to have opening statements on Tuesday. She noted that one side was not prepared to start on Monday but would not say if it was prosecutors or Waagner.

During questioning of 60 potential jurors, Dlott asked if they owned firearms and whether that would effect their judgment as a juror. At least a dozen raised their hands and all of them said they could determine the case impartially.

Dlott also asked "Do any of you believe that violence against abortion clinics equates to Osama bin Laden and the Sept. 11 attacks against the United States?" About six potential jurors raised their hands.

About a dozen potential jurors raised their hands when asked if they were members or had family that were members of the National Rifle Association.

Waagner, who was neatly dressed and took notes, smiled when a woman answered "I think my brother is a member of NRA because he is president of the National Muzzleloaders Association."

Dlott said she expects the trial to last three days.

Waagner pleaded innocent in March to the six-count indictment charging him with illegally possessing a handgun and a rifle as a fugitive and as a convicted felon; possessing a stolen handgun; and possessing a stolen car. He could get 15 years to life on those charges, plus fines of up to $250,000 on each count.

He was captured about 10 months after escaping from a jail in Illinois while awaiting sentencing on federal charges there.

Waagner was sentenced Jan. 25 in Urbana, Ill., to 30 years in prison for interstate transport of a stolen vehicle, illegal possession of a firearm and the Illinois jail escape.

The Cincinnati charges are separate from a government investigation into whether Waagner mailed more than 550 anthrax hoax letters to abortion clinics after his escape.

Federal authorities have said that Waagner claimed responsibility for sending the letters to about 280 women's reproductive health clinics in October and November. He has not been charged in that case, but authorities have said he could be taken to Philadelphia for questioning after his Cincinnati trial.

In media interviews, Waagner has said he did not intend violence but wanted to scare clinic operators with the hoaxes.

The government also has charged Waagner with bank robberies in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, a car theft in Mississippi and possession of a pipe bomb in Tennessee.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)