A judge on Friday denied a convicted Baton Rouge rapist's request for a new trial after concluding that a black juror's allegation of racial bias, bullying and intimidation by several white jurors was not corroborated by her fellow jurors.
Ad hoc Judge Bruce Bennett's ruling in the case of Sedrick Hills, who is black, came after an extraordinary proceeding in which 11 of the jurors and two alternate jurors testified one by one in open court. One juror is now deceased.
Marion Lathan, who is black, alleged in a notarized affidavit after the trial that she heard a white juror say, "Let's convict this n***** already, I am ready to go play golf." She claims the man also said, "The n***** should have just taken a plea deal anyway."
Lathan stood by those allegations in her testimony Friday in state District Court. She said the juror’s back was turned toward her when she heard the alleged statements.
"I am not convinced … that the statements were made," Bennett ruled from the bench after hearing from the jurors and alternate jurors.
Hills, 44, was convicted in August 2018 of forcible rape and another sexual assault-related charge. The verdicts were 11-1 and 10-2, respectively. The alternate jurors did not take part in jury deliberations.
Lathan, who voted not guilty on both counts, claimed the racially charged comments came during a lunch break the day before the jury deliberated and found Hills guilty. She also said a group of white male jurors bullied and intimidated her and other jurors.
“Everybody was hollering at me,” Lathan said. “If anyone made a statement in the defendant’s favor, they got hollered at. It scared me. I was scared.”
However, Jerry Perrin, who is white and voted to convict Hills on both counts, said there was a “pleasant atmosphere” in the jury room.
With the exception of Lathan, none of the jurors or alternate jurors who testified Friday reported hearing any racial slurs or epithets hurled by any juror, nor did they say race play a role in their deliberations.
“No racial comments, and never was the N-word used,” Steven Rushing, the jury foreman, said while being questioned by prosecutor Sonya Cardia-Porter.
Rushing, who is white and voted to convict Hills on both counts, said there was a “zero percent chance that race was a factor in my verdict.” He also said there was no bullying or intimidation in the jury deliberation room.
The jury that found Hills guilty was made up of eight white people and four black people.
Lakitha Lewis, who is black and cast two guilty verdicts in the case, testified there was no racial divide among the jurors.
“We all spoke. We all just talked,” she said in response to a question from Hills’ attorney, Robert Tucker Sr.
Lewis said she never felt excluded during deliberations, and never heard any racially insensitive remarks.
Barry Johnson, who cast one of the not guilty votes on the 10-2 vote but voted guilty on the other charge, said he felt the verdict was based on the evidence presented, not on skin color.
Johnson, who is black, said Lathan had an opportunity to voice her opinion during deliberations, “and she did that.”
Chad Hurt, who is white and cast a guilty vote on both counts, said he did not utter any racial slurs during the trial. He noted the victim in the case is black.
Perrin said he would have reacted negatively if someone had used the N-word during the trial.
“I don’t like that word,” he said.
Perrin said when he asked Lathan in the deliberation room why she voted not guilty on the rape count, she stated that “black men were being framed” and that she didn’t trust the DNA evidence presented at the trial. On Friday, Lathan denied saying black men were being framed.
Taylor Juneau, a white juror who voted to convict Hills on both counts, said Lathan indicated the jury had rushed to judgment.
Bennett set a Nov. 7 sentencing date for Hills and had him taken into custody. Hills had been free on bail.
Tucker told the judge he will file an appeal.
State District Judge Trudy White previously granted Hills' request for a new trial based on Lathan's affidavit and her closed-door testimony in December, but a state appeals court threw out the judge's order and ordered that a hearing be held "to determine whether the alleged statements played a role in reaching the verdict and, if so, whether the effect was so prejudicial as to require a new trial."
Hills was convicted of raping a female teenager in 2003.