gavel

A black juror's allegation that two white jurors made racial remarks about a black Baton Rouge man recently convicted of raping a teenager isn't enough to warrant a new trial, according to a prosecutor who is casting doubt on the juror's claim.

Sedrick Hills' attorney argues the alleged racial comments denied Hills the right to a trial by a fair and impartial jury, and filed a motion asking for a second trial.

The East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney's Office filed its response Thursday, noting that juror Marion Lathan is the only juror who cast a "not guilty" vote on each of the counts on which Hills was convicted Aug. 17.

The jury of eight whites and four blacks voted 11-1 to find the 43-year-old Hills guilty of forcible rape and 10-2 to convict him on another sexual assault-related charge.

Lathan's allegations of racial comments are included in a notarized affidavit she sent to the office of Hills' attorney, Robert Tucker Sr., on Aug. 20, several days after the trial ended.

Lathan alleges 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." She says another white male juror chimed in, "The n***** should have just taken a plea deal anyway."

Prosecutor Sonya Cardia-Porter states in her response to Hills' new trial request that she, Tucker and state District Judge Trudy White spoke with the jury for about 45 minutes immediately after the trial ended — a customary practice after jury trials in the 19th Judicial District Court.

"A number of the jurors spoke and the mood in the jury room was not antagonistic or angry," Cardia-Porter wrote. "At no time did any member of the jury, including the dissenting juror, Marion Lathan, inform any parties 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, Cardia-Porter said in her filing. She described the weight of the evidence as "overwhelming."

Cardia-Porter said the affidavit does not state who made a racist comment, nor does it say the comment was made during deliberations or affected the deliberations.

"It does not allege that race was a factor at deliberations or that the verdict was based on outside influence improperly brought to bear upon any juror's verdict," the prosecutor said.

In her affidavit, Lathan refers to the victim in the case as "the so-called victim" and questions her credibility.

That statement, according to Cardia-Porter, demonstrates Lathan's "bias."

Lathan also claims that a group of white male jurors bullied and intimidated the other jurors.

While deliberations do involve back-and-forth discussions, Cardia-Porter said, "there is no evidence that there was `bullying' in deliberations."

"Notably, Lathan was not `bullied' into making her decision because she did dissent on both counts," the prosecutor added.

Tucker said Friday he strongly disagrees with Cardia-Porter and said Hills deserves a full-blown evidentiary hearing where he can call witnesses.

Cardia-Porter, who stressed that a conviction should never be based on race, also said Lathan's affidavit "does not change the evidence presented at trial."

Hills is scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 24.

    

Follow Joe Gyan Jr. on Twitter, @JoeGyanJr.