Friday, October 5, 2007

Isabelle Zehnder: CAICA: No blacks among boot-camp trial jurors

Potential jurors, top, wait to see if they are dismissed from jury duty in the boot-camp-death trial at the Marina Civic Center in Panama City on Wednesday.''It is unfortunate the pool is not more representative. It sounds like the defense got what they wanted as for a racial mix on the jury.'' Michael Seigel University of Florida's Levin College of Law professor

September 27, 2007
By Stephen D. Price

PANAMA CITY - No black jurors were chosen for the boot-camp trial of seven drill instructors and a camp nurse charged in the death of 14-year-old Martin Lee Anderson.

Gina Jones, Anderson's mother who has long said she did not want the trial to happen in Bay County, was not happy with the jury's racial makeup.

''I'm very disappointed,'' she said.

Jury selection concluded Wednesday evening at the Marina Civic Center in the controversial, racially charged case, after three days in which attorneys went through a list of more than 1,400 potential jurors.

The trial will begin Oct. 3.

Anderson was black, two of the defendants are black, one is Asian and five are white. The case has divided opinion in Bay County largely along racial lines. Civil rights advocates around the state and country have called for ''justice'' for Anderson.

''It is unfortunate the pool is not more representative,'' said Professor Michael Seigel of the University of Florida's Levin College of Law and former Tampa Bay federal prosecutor. ''It sounds like the defense got what they wanted as for a racial mix on the jury.''

The county is 83 percent white and 11 percent black.

Charged with felony aggravated manslaughter of a child are Henry Dickens, Charles Enfinger, Patrick Garrett, Raymond Hauck, Charles Helms Jr., Henry McFadden Jr., Joseph Walsh II and the camp nurse, Kristin Schmidt.

A jury of six will decide the trial's outcome, and four have been chosen as alternates. All the jurors are white except for one man who is Asian. Attorneys in the case and court officials would not say who will be on the jury of six and who will be alternates for the trial. The jury pool has four men and six women.

Anderson died Jan. 6, 2006, a day after he was hit, kicked and kneed by drill instructors at the Bay County boot camp, after he had collapsed while running laps. The incident was captured on videotape.

An initial autopsy said Anderson died from natural causes from complications caused by a blood disorder, sickle-cell trait. A second autopsy said he died from being suffocated when guards clamped his mouth shut and held ammonia tablets to his nose for several minutes.

Seigel said the racial makeup of the jury doesn't mean it won't judge the trial fairly, but added, ''This could be a factor if they're acquitted and if a federal prosecutor second-guesses the jury.''

U.S. Attorney Gregory Miller, the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice are still investigating the case.

During jury selection, five black potential jurors were dismissed, mostly by defense attorneys. One 20-year-old woman was dismissed because she had a cousin who knew Anderson.

''I believe there is a close relation between her and Martin Lee Anderson,'' said defense attorney Walter Smith, who represents Enfinger. ''She has very little life experience. We generally want someone who has life experience.''

Assistant State Attorney Scott Harmon complained the defense had already struck down four blacks from the jury pool.

But Bay County Circuit Judge Michael Overstreet said, ''I believe there is a close relation between her and Martin Lee Anderson.''

Of the 10 jurors that made the cut, one man said he knew defendant Dickens' wife, and another said she knew one of the defense attorneys, Jonathan Dingus.

Another potential black juror was dismissed because defense attorneys said he was familiar with sickle-cell disease and may challenge their expert testimony.

''That's a bona fide concern for either side,'' Overstreet said, before dismissing that juror.

The trial will take place at the Bay County Juvenile Justice Courthouse where Overstreet has requested security escorts for defense attorneys and security at the courthouse for the defendants as they leave and enter.