Birmingham, Ala. -- Federal prosecutors preparing to try Eric Rudolph in a fatal abortion clinic blast want to show jurors that the serial bombing suspect had ties to a Tennessee church led by an anti-abortion 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.
In court papers filed during the weekend, prosecutors said Rudolph's "expressed anti-abortion views and his association with anti-abortion activists will clearly help set the stage for the crime, give it context, and will 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 the government. Prosecutors claim such attitudes were "inextricably linked" to Rudolph's views against abortion.
A hearing on the proposed evidence was set Tuesday in Huntsville.
Preliminary jury selection for Rudolph's trial is set for April 6. Opening statements may not begin until early June.
Rudolph also is accused of setting the bomb that killed a woman during the Atlanta Olympics in 1996 and bombings in metro Atlanta in 1997, including one that targeted a gay nightclub. He was captured in 2003 after more than five years on the run.
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 anti-abortion 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.