Saturday, September 02, 2000

New trial ordered in murder case

Appeals court finds bias in jury choice

By John Eckberg
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Hamilton County prosecutors discriminated against Anthony Walker when they removed an African-American as a prospective juror during Mr. Walker's murder trial for shooting a Northside tavern owner.

        The First Appellate Court of Appeals Friday ordered a new trial for Mr. Walker, 39, convicted of murder in July 1998 for shooting James Hebert Sr., the owner of Coach's bar, on Sept. 15, 1997.

        Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge David P. Davis permitted prosecutors to eliminate the juror with one of four peremptory challenges during the jury-screening stage of the trial.

        Defense attorney Clyde Bennett II argued at the time that his client's right to a fair trial was in jeopardy.

        “I believe (the juror is) being taken off the jury because he is an African-American — as is the defendant,” Mr. Bennett told the judge.

        Prosecutors countered that Mr. Bennett could not object unless he proved that a pattern of racial discrimination was occuring. The judge decided that discrimination was not an issue because three jurors on the panel were African-American.

        After the jury deliberated for three days, it found Mr. Walker guilty of murder. Judge Davis sentenced the South Fairmount resident to 15 years to life in prison.

        “I knew it would be overturned,” Mr. Bennett said when contacted about the case on Friday. “I have had many jury trials in Hamilton County and throughout the state, and the use of a peremptory challenge to strike black jurors is very common.”

        The appeals court found that when Mr. Bennett voiced his objections, he did not have to show that prosecutors were biased.

        “I did want that juror on the jury,” Mr. Bennett said. “If I'm a black man and I'm on trial, I'd prefer to have one or two black men in the jury. If I'm a white man and I'm on trial, I'd want one or two white men on the jury.”

        Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen said, “There were three African-Americans on that jury, and it's important to point that out — that there was no discriminatory intent on the part of the prosecutors.”


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- New trial ordered in murder case