Friday, May 19, 2006
High Court Rejects Claim That Jews Were Excluded From Jury
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A defendant who was convicted of murder and sentenced to death did not prove his claims that the trial judge advised the prosecutor to excuse Jewish potential jurors and that the advice was followed, the state Supreme Court unanimously ruled yesterday.
The claim of racial bias in jury selection was raised by Fred H. Freeman in a petition for writ of habeas corpus. Freeman was sentenced to death by Alameda Superior Court Judge Stanley P. Golde for the 1994 murder of Donald Kroger, with the special circumstance of robbery-murder. Freeman was also convicted of five counts of robbery and three counts of attempted robbery, all with the personal use of a firearm.
The evidence showed that Freeman shot Kroger in the head while robbing patrons of a bar in Berkeley.
Prosecutor Alleged Wrongdoing
In support of his petition, Freeman attached a declaration of the trial prosecutor, former Alameda Deputy District Attorney John R. Quatman, who is now in private practice in Montana.
“One time . . . Judge Golde called me into chambers and asked rhetorically ‘Quatman, what are you doing?’ When I asked what the problem was, he said I had not challenged a prospective juror who was Jewish. . . . He said I could not have a Jew on the jury, and asked me if I was aware that when Adolph Eichman[n] was apprehended after World War II there was a major controversy in Israel over whether he should be executed. Judge Golde said no Jew would vote to send a defendant to the gas chamber. I thanked Judge Golde for his advice, and thereafter excused any prospective juror who was Jewish. Actually, Judge Golde was only telling me what I already should have known to do. It was standard practice to exclude Jewish jurors in death cases as it was to exclude African-American women from capital juries.”
Quatman also testified at the evidentiary hearing held by the referee appointed by the court, Santa Clara Superior Court Judge Kevin Murphy.
The high court accepted the referee’s findings that Quatman’s claim was not credible and determined that the conversation did not occur.
Justice Marvin R. Baxter, writing for the court, noted that none of the excused jurors were Jewish and that Quatman’s notes during voir dire do not indicate that he believed any of them were.
Baxter also questioned Quatman’s motives, saying:
“Quatman had a motive to undermine a capital conviction secured by the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office because of his animosity toward the office in general and District Attorney Tom Orloff in particular. As Quatman conceded, it was common knowledge that he and Orloff had an unfriendly relationship dating from ‘way back’ when they were young deputies.”
Baxter reasoned that it was unlikely that Golde would have given such a warning at the stage in the trial Quatman alleged, before the parties exercised their peremptory challenges.
Baxter also found that there were inconsistencies between the ex parte conversation described in Quatman’s declaration and testimony, and the way he described the conversation to an attorney shortly after the allegations were made public.
Reputation for Honesty Poor
Baxter also noted that Quatman’s reputation for honesty and integrity was poor, citing the testimony of witnesses who had known him for over 20 years that, “[i]f it didn’t serve his purpose, he wouldn’t tell the truth.,” and that he “was not an honest or credible person and that his reputation for honesty and veracity was very poor.”
If Quatman did exclude Jews from Freeman’s jury, or any other jury, it was not likely the result of advice from Golde, Baxter said. The justice cited testimony that Quatman had urged prosecutors to keep Jews off capital juries at a California District Attorneys Association conference in the early 1990s, and made no mention that Golde—with whom Quatman was personally close—had given any such advice.
Yesterday’s ruling is the second in which the high court rejected claims that Jews were improperly excluded from capital juries in Alameda County. The court last August affirmed the conviction and death sentence imposed on Mark Lindsey Schmeck for the 1986 murder of Lorin Germaine, saying the fact that prosecutors struck two potential jurors who may have been Jewish did not constitute a prima facie showing of bias where there was no evidence as to the religious affiliations of the other venire members.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company