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An appeals court has set the stage for a rarely seen proceeding in which jurors will be called to testify at a hearing about alleged racist remarks by two white jurors during the trial last summer of a black Baton Rouge man convicted of raping a teenager.

Those allegations were made by a black female juror in a notarized affidavit she sent to an attorney for Sedrick Hills several days after Hills was found guilty of forcible rape and another sexual assault-related charge by votes of 11-1 and 10-2, respectively.

In the affidavit, which Hills' attorney included in a motion for a new trial, Marion Lathan said she heard a white male juror say, "Let's convict this n***** already, I am ready to go play golf." She claims another white male juror replied, "The n***** should have just taken a plea deal anyway."

State District Judge Trudy White cited the alleged racial comments in a Feb. 1 ruling that ordered a new trial for the 44-year-old Hills. The judge said she found Lathan to be credible.

The East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney's Office appealed the judge's decision.

Earlier this month, a three-judge panel of the state 1st Circuit Court of Appeal in Baton Rouge threw out White's granting of a new trial.

The panel said the judge correctly concluded that the statements contained in Lathan's affidavit were "sufficient to … allow further judicial inquiry," but she abused her discretion "in relying solely on the statements of the complaining juror to conclude there was racial bias."

Circuit Judges Will Crain, Mitch Theriot and Guy Holdridge sent the matter back to the 19th Judicial District Court for a hearing "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."

The judges, in a rarely seen move, gave the parties permission to call the jurors to testify.

Prior to White's ruling, Robert Tucker Sr., who represents Hills, had asked that the entire jury be subpoenaed so they could be questioned. The District Attorney's Office opposed that request. The jurors were not subpoenaed.

In a prior court filing, prosecutor Sonya Cardia-Porter cited the jury shield law in explaining why the District Attorney's Office opposed subpoenaing jurors to testify at a hearing.

"When jurors are selected to serve on a case and reach a verdict, the State believes in enforcing the well settled law created to preserve the confidentiality and finality of jury verdicts, and the confidentiality of discussion among jurors," she wrote.

District Attorney Hillar Moore III said Thursday his office will comply with the 1st Circuit ruling and "take the next steps to protect the integrity of the judicial system."

Tucker, who contends Hills was denied his right to be tried by a fair and impartial jury, said he's glad the appellate court interpreted the law in Hills' favor.

White previously restricted both sides from commenting on the case outside the courtroom.

White has since moved to a civil seat on the 19th JDC, so retired state District Judge Bruce Bennett — who is filling her former criminal seat until the election of a permanent replacement — has scheduled an Aug. 14 status conference in the Hills case.

The jury that convicted Hills last August was composed of eight white jurors and four black jurors.

Lathan, who voted not guilty on both counts against him, claims the racially charged comments came during a lunch break the day before the jury deliberated and found Hills guilty.

Even though the alleged comments reported by Lathan were not made during jury deliberations, Tucker has said the jurors' minds were tainted.

Lathan also stated in her affidavit that a group of white male jurors bullied and intimidated the other jurors.

Cardia-Porter has argued in prior court filings that she, Tucker and White spoke with the jury for about 45 minutes immediately after the trial ended, a customary practice in Baton Rouge state court. Cardia-Porter wrote that the mood in the jury room was not "antagonistic or angry," and neither Lathan nor any other member of the jury stated that race played a factor in their deliberations or decisions.

Cardia-Porter said Lathan explained that, despite the evidence presented, she did not believe DNA science. DNA evidence linked Hills to the 2003 rape, the prosecutor said in her filing. She described the weight of the evidence as overwhelming.

In her affidavit, Lathan referred to the victim in the case as "the so-called victim" and questioned her credibility. That statement, Cardia-Porter has said, demonstrates Lathan's bias.

Cardia-Porter also has stressed that a conviction should never be based on race.

Hills, who was never sentenced and remains free on bail, was accused of raping a female teenager in 2003.

Email Joe Gyan Jr. at jgyan@theadvocate.com.