Jamie Satterfield, News Sentinel (Knoxville), March 10, 2008
Johnnie “Bro” Martin won round one, and angry jurors blamed a single black juror who accused the others of racism—the juror that a federal judge wouldn’t remove despite prosecutors’ pleas last week.
The drug dealer, accused of moving his ring from Boston to Knoxville, defended himself in U.S. District Court against plotting to kill a witness and heading up a network that wiretaps indicated trafficked $500,000 a month worth of cocaine. The ring also sold marijuana and Ecstasy, prosecutors allege.
The jury split along racial lines, and U.S. District Judge Thomas Phillips declared a mistrial late this afternoon.
Jurors declined to be identified as they left U.S. District Court late this afternoon, but several said the lone black juror on the 12-member panel repeatedly said that her sister, who is in prison in Mississippi on a drug conviction, had been framed by police. They said the woman accused white jurors of being racist.
The lone holdout refused comment as she walked out of court alone. The remaining jurors, all white, left as a group.
“She made a mockery of the system,” another juror said.
Prosecutors attempted last week to have the holdout removed from the jury because she didn’t reveal during the jury selection process that the police agency involved in the trial charged her daughter with peddling pot in 2006.
On Thursday, the panel sent another note signaling a deadlock. This note, however, raised the specter of claims of racism as a bone of contention. Martin, who is black, had argued in closing arguments that he was the victim of a racist judicial system.
Plowell said all potential jurors were asked during jury selection if any relatives or close friends had ever been arrested. While admitting a sister was imprisoned on a drug conviction in Mississippi, the woman insisted she had no quarrel with the judicial system.
Plowell said she and Jennings learned Friday that the woman did not reveal that her daughter had been arrested in 2006 by KPD on charges including possession of a shoe box full of marijuana. The female juror posted her daughter’s bond. That charge was dropped a year later. It’s not clear why, and Plowell said it did not matter that the daughter was not convicted.
“We would have wanted to question (the juror) about her feelings about the KPD,” Plowell argued. “This material misrepresentation goes to her qualifications as a juror.”
Martin countered that there was no proof that the juror was biased against KPD.
“This is unprecedented,” he said of prosecutors’ move to have the woman removed from the jury. “I feel it would be a miscarriage of justice to (remove) the only black juror.”
Phillips opined that there was “no evidence of misconduct on the part of any juror in this case.”
He noted the woman revealed her sister’s drug conviction. He did not address, however, Plowell’s complaint that the woman failed to reveal her daughter’s arrest by KPD.
Instead, Phillips chastised the News Sentinel for reporting a racial division among the jurors.
The News Sentinel did not suggest that the black juror was the cause for the panel’s deadlock. The newspaper reported the racial make-up of the jury because claims of racism were, according to note, part of the divide among the jurors.