No Black Men on Jury in Baby Murder Trial
MARIETTA, Ga. (CN) - Attorneys for a Georgia teen charged with murdering a baby filed a motion to reconsider Monday, the first day of jury selection, claiming that "not one member" of the panel of 48 reflects a jury of the defendant's peers: there were no black men among the 48 potential jurors.
"We are looking at a situation of an all-white jury for a black man who killed a white child," said Glynn County Public Defender Kevin Gough.
De'Marquise Elkins, 17, is charged with felony murder: shooting a year-old baby in the face and killing him in his stroller after the boy's mother, Sherry West, told Elkins she didn't have the money he demanded. Her son Antonio was 13 months old.
Elkins' mother, Karimah Elkins, is being tried with her son. She is charged with giving police false information and helping to dispose of the murder weapon -- a .22 caliber pistol. Both are African-American.
Because of pre-trial publicity concerning the March murder, the trial was moved 325 miles from Brunswick, Ga., to Cobb County Superior Court, with Glynn County Superior Court Judge Steven Kelley presiding.
When Elkins and his mother were brought into the courtroom, both sat at the defense attorneys' table and stoically stared straight ahead, while Judge Kelley quickly ushered in the jury panels.
Four panels of 12 men and women -- 48 potential jurors -- were led into the courtroom, filling the jury box and several benches in Cobb's "Ceremonial Courtroom" gallery.
Only four potential jurors of the original pool of 48 were African-American, all of them women.
Of the original 48, 28 were women and 20 were men.
There were Hispanic women, one Hispanic male and one Asian woman. The rest of the jury pool is Caucasian.
In pleading the motion before Judge Kelley, in the first few minutes of questioning of each panel, Gough asked: "Statistically, what are the odds of not having one black male out of 48 people on a jury? At the same time, your honor did indicate that we could call the clerk of the court."
Gough continued: "It is my understanding from the court administrator that the jurors that are late for jury duty, go to the bottom of the juror list. They receive the bottom numbers. We believe that has an impact of the African-Americans on the panel.
"There are 15 African men and 14 African-American women in the jury pool downstairs of 117. We want the jurors that are down there, up here, first. It seems only fair. It's a good lesson for them to be on time, and they have to be here first. It does have an impact on the number of African-Americans."
Judge Kelley responded: "The law is clear that the jury is selected form the whole population. Random means random, in this case there is no other case but randomness.
"If you have evidence from a jury administrator that they systematically took people off before they made this list, I would be happy to hear this."
Special prosecutor Andrew Ekonomou vehemently objected, asking the judge: "On what basis was this filed? Supposition? Speculation as to whether Georgia may have been weighted against blacks? What is the good-faith basis for this claim? Is this based on investigation or deposition? I am entitled to know that."
Gough shot back: "Is the state disputing that there are the 48 people in this jury pool and none of them are black men?"
Judge Kelley initially denied the motion, but told Gough that he would hear his argument after a jury was seated and ready for trial.
Pre-trial media coverage also was an issue.
Glynn County District Attorney Jackie Johnson began the group voir dire by asking each of the four panels in the courtroom: "Do you watch any of those crime shows on television? Does everyone understand the difference between television and reality? Does anyone think that this case will only take an hour to decide, with a commercial break involved?
"Ya'll understand this isn't Judge Judy up here, right?"
The courtroom broke out into laughter.
Questions from Johnson and from Glynn County Public Defender Jonathan Lockwood included whether jurors owned guns, and whether they could be impartial with witnesses that may have criminal backgrounds.
Several potential jurors, men and women, said they could not be impartial about the death of a child.
"I'm a great grandmother and I don't believe I can sit and be impartial after knowing that the defendant is accused of killing a child," one woman said.
Of the 48, 22 were asked back for individual interviews, based on their answers about impartiality and whether they had formed an opinion on the guilt or innocence of the defendants.
One man commented: "Whoever did the murder was a crumb."
After asking that man to leave the courtroom, Gough asked the judge to strike him, saying, "He referred to my client as Crunk, which is slang for crackhead and drunk."
After confirming what the juror said - which was crumb - he was struck from the pool.
Of the 22 individually interviewed, 10 were struck, leaving a pool of 38 potential jurors and two alternates.
Gough asked again to be heard concerning the motion to reconsider and Judge Kelley allowed him to depose a witness concerning jury selection processes in Cobb County.
Cobb County Jury Administrator Deborah Matthews took the stand and calmly answered Gough's questions about jury selection.
Gough said he sent two assistants to walk through the Superior Court jury room at different times, and each reported there were 14 African-Americans in the total jury pool for all Superior Court trials taking place Monday.
"Did you not see that there weren't any African-American men as jurors for this trial?" he asked Matthews.
"I did not notice that there were no African-Americans," Matthews replied.
She said selection for jury duty comes from a list from the state that is randomly generated by driver- and voter-registration. Once she has a list, she said, potential jurors are randomly selected by computer.
"It's all generated by computer," she said.
"But you can't see a person's race on a driver's license?" Gough asked.
"No, not to my knowledge," Matthews replied.
Matthews told Gough she was not a mathematician and could not compute the percentage of African-Americans who should be chosen as jurors, based on Cobb County's diverse population.
Ekonomou interjected: "Your honor, I hold in my hand my driver's license. It does not reveal my race," and he waved the license in Gough's direction.
In his final plea, Gough said: "Not one African-American out of 48 members on a four panels in a county like Cobb? This will have a disparate impact on African Americans in Cobb County, and a disparate impact on my client, De'Marquise Elkins."
Karimah Elkins' attorney, J. Wrix McIlvaine, added: "This is highly prejudicial for an all-white jury to try this case."
Gough asked the judge to bring the 117 jurors from the original pool to the courtroom, so the defense could see for itself the racial makeup of the original jurors.
Kelley again denied the motion.
"The defense is asking to manipulate the jury, which is exactly what they are raging against in the first place," the judge said.
Final jury selection and opening arguments are scheduled for today (Tuesday).