Posted on January 4, 2008

Mass. Jury’s Racial Attitudes Questioned

Denise Lavoie, AP, December January 3, 2008

One juror, a white woman, was trying to convince the others that the murder victim had been bruised during a struggle, not during consensual sex with the defendant. Bruises like those, the juror supposedly said, can happen “when a big black guy beats up on a small woman.”

Another juror, a black woman, took offense and accused her of racism. Things got so heated that the two women had to be separated.

Now, more than a year after the defendant, a black garbage man, was convicted of stabbing to death a white fashion writer on Cape Cod, the judge has taken the highly unusual step of summoning the entire jury back to court next week to testify publicly about whether racism infected the deliberations.

Depending on what he finds out, the judge could order a new trial.

Questioning jurors in open court about their deliberations after a verdict is extremely rare. Jury deliberations are considered almost sacrosanct.

“It’s extraordinary,” said Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, who warned that forcing jurors to testify could have a chilling effect.

“The jury system depends on jurors being open and frank in their views. We protect the sanctity of the jury room for that reason,” he said.