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Wright Defense Requests Mistrial

Racial makeup of jury pool imbalanced, lawyer says

Lawyers for accused killer Daphne Wright complained Monday that a jury pool without people of color violates their client’s constitutional rights.

Wright, a black woman, is accused of killing Darlene VanderGiesen, who was white.

Public defender Jeff Larson said that through three weeks of jury selection, he hasn’t seen any black prospective jurors among the 140 or so to enter the courtroom. He said two Native Americans were the only apparent people of color.

With the trial expected to start Thursday, Larson asked Judge Brad Zell to declare a mistrial. He argued that filling juries from county driver’s license and voter registration lists might systematically exclude minorities from jury duty.

Minnehaha County State’s Attorney Dave Nelson said the court did nothing different from past jury trials.

Zell said he had noticed the jury pools have been almost exclusively white, but denied Larson’s motion, saying there is no showing that the selection process is excluding blacks in particular.

A separate defense motion effectively pushed the trial back one day.

The court reached its goal Monday of qualifying 59 potential jurors for the trial. Of that number, the prosecution and defense were to remove 22 each, leaving 12 jurors and three alternates to hear the case.

Plans changed around 3 p.m., when Larson requested the defense get extra peremptory strikes.

He suggested the judge made mistakes throughout the selection process when he removed nine jurors who are strongly opposed to the death penalty.

Larson argued that those dismissals should come via the state’s peremptory strikes, rather than the judge’s strikes for cause.

Judge Brad Zell granted the defense one extra strike, requiring the court to qualify a 60th juror.

When Zell made the decision, only one man remained in the jury room. Upon questioning from the judge and the lawyers, that man said he could not vote for the death penalty and was sent home.

The judge said about 16 prospects will be called to court today. They will be questioned as a group – a process that has taken two to three hours – and then individually until one more is qualified to serve on the jury.

Zell wants to take one day off before the trial itself begins.

That makes Thursday the probable start date.

If convicted, the 43-year-old Wright will get either life in prison or death by lethal injection.

(( Source: Argus Leader ))