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Judges order new trial following juror issue

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A case involving the issue of a prosecutor’s use of a peremptory strike against an African-American member of the jury pool has appeared before the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals for the third time. This time, the judges vacated the two defendants’ murder and robbery convictions and ordered a new trial.

Styles Taylor and Keon Thomas, who are both African-American, were tried on charges of murder and armed robbery for the killing of a white gun store owner. The government sought the death penalty for both, although it wasn’t clear who actually shot the owner.

At issue is the peremptory strike of African-American juror Heshla Watson. She said during voir dire she wouldn’t be able to impose the death penalty on a non-shooter. When the District Court denied striking her because of her reservations about imposing the death penalty, the prosecutor then used the peremptory strike to remove her. The prosecutor used another peremptory strike to remove the next potential juror, another African-American. The defendants raised a Batson challenge, but the District Court denied it.

Taylor and Thomas were sentenced to life in prison. On the first appeal, the 7th Circuit ordered a limited remand for the District Court to supplement the record with its rationale for rejecting the Batson challenge to the use of the peremptory strike to remove Watson. The District Court found the prosecutor’s rational credible. On appeal again, the 7th Circuit remanded again on the same issue. This time, the prosecutor introduced seven new reasons, beyond Watson’s response during voir dire to the non-shooter question, as to why she was stricken. Again, the District Court credited the government’s nonracial reasons for striking Watson.

In United States of America v. Styles Taylor and Keon Thomas, Nos. 05-2007, 05-2008, 09-1291, the judges relied on Miller-El v. Cockrell, 537 U.S. 322, 338-39 (2003), which instructs that when ruling on a Batson challenge, the trial court should consider only the reasons initially given to support the challenged strike, not reasons offered after the fact.

“In this case, when the Batson challenge was made, the only reason offered by the prosecutor to justify striking Watson was her response to the non-shooter question. As such, on remand the court should have limited its inquiry and analysis to exploring that very question. But the remand hearing went much further," wrote Judge Diane Sykes.

Accepting the new, unrelated reasons extending well beyond the prosecutor’s original justification for striking Watson was clear error, and the government’s reliance on these additional reasons raises the specter of pretext, she continued. Because it’s “not possible to parse the district court’s decision, separating the permissible from the impermissible reasons supporting the court’s credibility finding,” the judges ordered a new trial.

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  1. I just wanted to point out that Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, Senator Feinstein, former Senate majority leader Bill Frist, and former attorney general John Ashcroft are responsible for this rubbish. We need to keep a eye on these corrupt, arrogant, and incompetent fools.

  2. Well I guess our politicians have decided to give these idiot federal prosecutors unlimited power. Now if I guy bounces a fifty-dollar check, the U.S. attorney can intentionally wait for twenty-five years or so and have the check swabbed for DNA and file charges. These power hungry federal prosecutors now have unlimited power to mess with people. we can thank Wisconsin's Jim Sensenbrenner and Diane Feinstein, John Achcroft and Bill Frist for this one. Way to go, idiots.

  3. I wonder if the USSR had electronic voting machines that changed the ballot after it was cast? Oh well, at least we have a free media serving as vicious watchdog and exposing all of the rot in the system! (Insert rimshot)

  4. Jose, you are assuming those in power do not wish to be totalitarian. My experience has convinced me otherwise. Constitutionalists are nearly as rare as hens teeth among the powerbrokers "managing" us for The Glorious State. Oh, and your point is dead on, el correcta mundo. Keep the Founders’ (1791 & 1851) vision alive, my friend, even if most all others, and especially the ruling junta, chase only power and money (i.e. mammon)

  5. Hypocrisy in high places, absolute immunity handed out like Halloween treats (it is the stuff of which tyranny is made) and the belief that government agents are above the constitutions and cannot be held responsible for mere citizen is killing, perhaps has killed, The Republic. And yet those same power drunk statists just reel on down the hallway toward bureaucratic fascism.

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