Inmate Says Prosecutor Excluded Juror Based On Race
In 2011, Edwards, an African American, was convicted of the assault and sentenced to nine additional years in prison, which were to be tacked onto the existing 50-year sentence on the murder conviction.
During jury selection for the assault trial, a potential juror who appeared to be African American, wrote "human" on the line of a questionnaire given to potential jurors asking their race. During voir dire, Senior State's Attorney Thomas DeLillo said to the woman: "You indicated that… when you wrote down race, you wrote human. Why did you do that?"
The woman responded by stating: "Because that is the race I belong to."
DeLillo then said "OK. Understood," and used a peremptory challenge.
The prosecutor stated that he found this answer to be odd and that he did not think that someone who would give such an answer would be appropriate to serve as a juror.
The defense lawyer objected and said he might have written "human" on the questionnaire too. Superior Court Judge Barbara Jongbloed, however, agreed with the prosecutor and said she found the woman's response "somewhat unusual" and the peremptory challenge "nondiscriminatory" in nature. The judge further did not feel that there was a pattern on the part of the state of excluding all prospective jurors of the same race.
A 1986 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Batson v. Kentucky held that prosecutors cannot challenge potential jurors solely on account of their race.
Edwards, through his appointed appellate lawyer, Glenn Falk, has appealed the trial judge's ruling on the juror. Falk argues that the state's use of a peremptory challenge to exclude an otherwise qualified juror on the basis of her answer to the race question on the juror questionnaire form deprived Edwards of his right to equal protection of the law.
Falk claims that the trial court improperly found that the state had a race-neutral, nondiscriminatory reason for the peremptory challenge and failed to recognize that mixed-race persons sometimes choose not to identify themselves by standard racial categories.
Additionally, Falk, an attorney at New Haven Legal Assistance Association, argues that public policy concerns should dictate the reversal of the judge's decisions.