Friday, August 26, 2005
High Court Rejects Claim That Jews Were Kept Off Death Jury
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer/Appellate Courts
A claim that Alameda County prosecutors deliberately excluded Jews from serving on the jury in a capital case was unanimously rejected yesterday by the state Supreme Court.
The court affirmed the conviction and death sentence imposed on Mark Lindsey Schmeck for the 1986 murder of Lorin Germaine. Prosecutors said Schmeck shot and killed Germaine inside the victim’s motorhome, parked in an industrial area near the Hayward BART station, with the intent to steal the motorhome and sell it.
Schmeck denied being involved in the killing, although he admitted being inside the motorhome after police told him witnesses could identify him as having been inside and having driven it. He blamed the murder on several others, including his girlfriend, Jamie Gronley.
Gronley confessed to the murder at one point, but later recanted and said she lied because she loved the defendant. Prosecutors denied offering Gronley—who had unrelated legal problems—any special consideration for recanting and testifying against her boyfriend, and police said they put little credence in Gronley’s confession—and told her so at the time—because she could not describe the victim’s appearance or the inside of the motorhome.
Implicated by Girlfriend
Gronley testified that Schmeck admitted to her that he committed the murder and tried to bring her into a plot to implicate someone else. He also told her where the body was and asked for help in moving it, she testified, and asked her to marry him so that she could not be forced to testify for the prosecution.
Schmeck’s is one of a number of capital cases in which lawyers are arguing that Alameda County prosecutors systematically excluded Jews from juries. They received a boost recently from a former deputy district attorney, John Quatman—now practicing in Montana—who filed a declaration stating that it was standard practice for prosecutors in the county to exercise peremptory challenges against Jews in capital cases.
Quatman made the claims in a sworn declaration filed in the habeas corpus case of Fred Freeman, a condemned inmate who is seeking to overturn his 1987 conviction in a killing and robbery in Berkeley. The judge in that case, the late Stanley Golde, told Quatman that no Jew would ever vote for the death penalty, the ex-prosecutor swore.
“Judge Golde was only telling me what I already should have known to do,” Quatman said in the declaration. “It was standard practice to exclude Jewish jurors in death cases.”
Golde, who was Jewish, died in 1998, and family members and a lawyer who was close to the judge told reporters they doubt he would have made such a statement.
Defense attorneys raised the question of religion at Schmeck’s trial—before Judge William McGuiness, now presiding justice of the First District Court of Appeal’s Div. Three—but the judge said there was no prima facie showing of bias. Prosecutors said they struck the two venire members in question because they seemed reluctant to support the death penalty for anyone other than a mass murderer, and because one of them indicated that he would have difficulty serving if smoking were permitted inside the courthouse, as was the case at that time.
The high court said it saw no basis to overrule the trial judge.
“[A]lthough the prosecutor exercised peremptory challenges against two prospective jurors who, during voir dire, identified affiliations with Judaism in response to questioning by defense counsel, the circumstance that neither the prosecutor nor defense counsel ever inquired into the religious affiliation of the majority of the seated jurors and alternates, and that the prosecutor had no other reasonable means of ascertaining their religious affiliation, undercuts any suggestion of purposeful discrimination against Prospective Jurors D.H. and M.B. because of their Jewish faith,” Chief Justice Ronald M. George wrote.
Schmeck’s lawyers are separately pursuing the issue on habeas corpus, citing statistics showing that 27 of 29 potential jurors who were identified as, or believed to be, Jewish were stricken in capital cases during the period in which Schmeck and Freeman were tried. A mathematician submitted a declaration stating that the probability in those cases of the prosecution randomly striking 27 of 29 Jews was less than 1 in 1.6 million.
The high court yesterday also affirmed a death sentence from Los Angeles County. Mario Lewis Gray was sentenced to the maximum punishment by Judge Robert Gustaveson for the 1987 murder—with special circumstances of burglary, rape, and sodomy—of 87-year-old Ruby Reed at her residence in an El Monte trailer park.
The cases are People v. Schmeck, 05 S.O.S. 4115, and People v. Gray, 05 S.O.S. 4139.
Copyright 2005, Metropolitan News Company