Race discrimination claims against district attorney
WHARTON COUNTY, Texas – A Wharton County assistant prosecutor said black jurors were excluded from a jury sitting in judgement of an African-American defendant. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that race should not be considered in choosing jurors.
The defendant in the case, Chrisandra Ware, 30, was subsequently found guilty on multiple counts of aggravated assault and assault of a public servant. Sentencing is pending.
Her attorney, Mark Racer, raised objections about jury selection before the trial started.
"When the jury was seated and I looked at my chart to see where everybody was seated, I realized there were three African-Americans struck by the state, which left no African-Americans on the jury," Racer said.
According to court transcripts, a woman who was picked to sit on the jury also raised the issue with Judge Randy Clapp, telling him "it didn't bode well for the accused."
After Ware was convicted, one of the prosecutors admitted in court that he'd been told by Wharton County district attorney Ross Kurtz to keep African-Americans off the jury according to a court transcript.
"I was not 'instructed' to strike black jurors so much as I was advised or encouraged to do so as a matter of trial strategy," Wharton County Assistant District Attorney Nathan Wood said, adding that it made him feel uncomfortable.
Wood also insisted the three African-Americans struck in the case were not excluded for reasons other than race.
In a written statement to KPRC 2 News, Kurtz denied ordering the exclusion of black jurors.
"My instructions and guidance have always been and will always be that prosecutors should not take race into account in exercising the choices allowed by law on which potential jurors to strike," Kurtz said in the statement.
But Racer said that's clearly not the message Kurtz communicated to his assistants.
"I think it's in his best interest. Sometimes he wants to win and sometimes I think he wants to win too much and goes too far," Racer said.
He said he's planning to ask for a mistrial in the case, and he is encouraging a review to determine if African-Americans have been excluded in previous Wharton County trials.