Here's How Prosecutors Judge Potential Jurors in Wharton County
Over in Wharton County, apparently rejecting black people during jury selection is something the district attorney has openly encouraged, according to two prosecutors.
Assistant District Attorneys Nathan Wood and Daniel LaBruyere both said during a hearing that at some point or other, their boss, District Attorney Ross Kurtz, offered this as a trial strategy for them: “If you don't strike the blacks, it's your case to lose," or something to that effect, LaBruyere told Judge Randy Clapp. Clapp called the hearing after someone other than the prosecutors told him what Kurtz said, as the Houston Chronicle first reported.
Before an all-white jury found a black woman guilty of aggravated assault and assault of a public servant, Wood had called an unnamed friend and complained that Kurtz's comments just before the jury selection made him feel uncomfortable; Wood thinks this friend may have told Clapp, who then called the hearing. Both Wood and LaBruyere maintained in court that, despite their boss's advice, they never would have taken it.
The trial hearing transcript, however, provides a closer look at how else they decided to judge people, regardless of whether their race had anything to do with it.
Wood and LaBruyere struck down three black female jurors. One was a special ed teacher. While the court said that she was “exactly the kind of juror we needed for this case,” Wood said that they anticipated the defense would raise the defendant's own “special needs,” and they didn't want someone who had any specialized knowledge about that on the jury.
A second juror was rejected because she had tattoos on her arms, worked at Pizza Hut and brought with her another female they assumed was her girlfriend who “displayed an angry demeanor throughout the morning.” Wood said they also had concerns “based on her youth” and stalked her on Facebook. There they found a picture of her wearing a shirt with a pot leaf on it. Wood suggested that made her “bad for us” and “biased against the State.”
The third juror they rejected was a woman named Latrisia Bluntson. Wood said that “the Bluntson family name is well-known among Wharton County law enforcement,” and assumed she must be related to one Bluntson who is serving four life sentences for drug charges and another recently charged with murder. It did not appear that they checked to confirm, as Wood only said they “believed it was likely” she was their relative.
After the all-white jury was selected, one of the jurors noticed something odd. She approached Judge Clapp and told him, “There are no blacks.” To which Clapp replied, “You are very observant.”
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