gavel

Amid allegations of racially-charged juror misconduct, a state judge has ordered the prosecution and defense to steer clear of the jurors who recently convicted a black Baton Rouge man of raping a teenager.

Sedrick Hills' attorney, Robert Tucker Sr., has filed under seal a request that District Judge Trudy White send out subpoenas for the entire jury. Tucker previously filed a motion for a new trial based on a juror's allegation that two white jurors made racist comments during a lunch break.

The East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney's Office is asking White to deny the requests for subpoenas and another trial.

Hills, 43, is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 17. The judge also will hear the defense's new trial motion and the prosecution's motion to quash the subpoenas that day.

In the interim, Tucker and prosecutor Sonya Cardia-Porter are set to meet with White on Tuesday to discuss how to proceed.

The judge, however, made one thing perfectly clear in a Nov. 2 written directive: "The Court orders that the State of Louisiana, in any capacity, along with the Defense, in any capacity, shall not make any contact with person or persons from the jury."

In a notarized affidavit that juror Marion Lathan sent to Tucker's office several days after Hills was convicted Aug. 17, Lathan said she heard a white male juror state during an Aug. 16 lunch break, "Let's convict this n***** already, I am ready to go play golf."

The affidavit is contained in the new trial motion.

Lathan, who is black, says in the affidavit that another white male juror replied, "The n***** should have just taken a plea deal anyway."

The jury convicted Hills of forcible rape by an 11-1 vote, with Lathan casting the lone dissent. The jury found him guilty of another sexual assault-related charge by a 10-2 vote, with Lathan casting one of the not guilty votes.

The jury consisted of eight whites and four blacks.

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

"It is my adamant position that … my client is entitled to a new trial," Tucker said. He contends Hills was denied his right to a trial by a fair and impartial jury.

In a Nov. 13 court filing, Cardia-Porter cited the jury shield law in explaining why the District Attorney's Office is opposed to 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.

Cardia-Porter, who has previously stressed that a conviction should never be based on race, went on to say that the alleged violations cited by Hills "do not satisfy the law permitting inquiry into the jury's mental process."

Tucker called that argument "absurd."

"If you want to get to the bottom of it, why are you afraid of a hearing?" he asked. "I cannot believe the state of Louisiana believes this foolishness that they're talking about."

East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III said Thursday his office is seeking to quash Hills' subpoena request because "we have a duty to protect the sanctity and secrecy of jury deliberations unless and until there is specific and credible information that deliberations violated the law."

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

Cardia-Porter pointed out in a previous court filing that she, Tucker and White spoke with the jury for about 45 minutes immediately after the trial ended. The prosecutor said the mood in the jury room was not "antagonistic or angry," and no member of the jury — including Lathan — told any of the parties that race factored into their deliberations or decisions.           

Follow Joe Gyan Jr. on Twitter, @JoeGyanJr.