The Nevada Supreme Court ordered a new trial in a knife-attack case after ruling Thursday that Clark County prosecutors had a racial motive for challenging a proposed jury panel.
Charges were filed after Robin Swope and Gary Jerome Williams got into a fight in June 2003. Swope confronted Williams after seeing him talk to his 13-year-old daughter.
Both men claimed the other escalated the confrontation to a knife fight, but Williams, who is black, was charged with attempted murder and battery with a deadly weapon.
As the trial began, Williams' lawyer asked for a new jury pool, saying only one of 40 prospective jurors was black, even though Clark County is more than 9 percent African American. The state didn't object, so the jury commissioner was told to bring a second group of jurors. According to the record, the judge told the jury commissioner to ensure the second pool was random but that it included blacks.
The second pool contained six African Americans, three of whom were among the first 12 jurors.
At that point, Clark County prosecutors moved to dismiss the group. Williams objected, but the judge ordered a third jury pool, which was seated and which convicted Williams of battery with a deadly weapon.
Williams appealed, saying the state had racial motives in objecting to the second group of potential jurors. His counsel also argued the district judge was wrong to allow testimony about an earlier conviction when Williams was 17.
A Nevada Supreme Court panel of Justices Bob Rose, Michael Douglas and Ron Parraguirre agreed with both arguments and ordered a new trial for Williams.
The opinion points out the state made no objections until prosecutors saw the makeup of the jury panel.
"The state would have undoubtedly claimed that it was objecting to the lack of randomness. However, it did not do so until the racial makeup of the (jury) was revealed. It then specifically objected to the fact that three of the first 12 jurors were African Americans," the opinion states.
"It is plain that the state did not want a jury containing three or more African Americans."
That, according to the opinion, violates U.S. Supreme Court interpretations of the Constitution. And, the Nevada court ruled, it taints the case even though the third jury convicted Williams.
"To hold that the subsequent (jury panel) remedied the discrimination would condone purposeful discrimination by the state."
In addition, the high court objected to the district court decision to allow evidence about Williams' conviction when he was 17. The justices note that conviction was listed as a juvenile conviction and that juvenile convictions are not admissible to impeach a defendant.
Since the evidence in the case centered on whether Swope or Williams was telling the truth, the court agreed improperly introduced evidence of a prior conviction was not harmless and also warrants a new trial.
-- Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at email@example.com or 687-8750.