Jury selection begins in murder retrial
Defense attorney Edward Heyburn sounded like famed attorney Johnnie Cochran, interjecting race into the retrial of former Newark gang member Shaheed Brown.
By the end of the first day of jury selection Monday, Heyburn had already pulled out the race card, lamenting that too few African Americans are in the jury pool.
Heyburn has not hidden his desire for the jury to be representative of his client, who is black.
Of the roughly 100 people who showed up for jury selection, 52 were told to return Tuesday. Only a handful are black, Heyburn said.
Some prospective jurors were dismissed because of financial and medical hardships. Some said they were reluctant to sit on a murder trial, Heyburn said. And others “thought my client was guilty even though all they heard was a brief statement from the judge about the case and saw he was black,” Heyburn said.
The defense attorney also took aim at Joseph Itri, the lead state police detective who testified at the last trial. He said he hopes the judge does not allow Itri to testify that sagging pants Brown wore signified he was armed with a handgun when he was outside of crime-ridden La Guira Bar in the early-morning hours of July 12, 2014.
That’s the night, prosecutors said, Brown gunned down Enrico Smalley Jr.
Heyburn called Itri’s testimony at the last trial a “racist argument because a significant amount of young African American males wear a hip hop style. It’s a backdoor way of targeting black people as suspects for having guns.”
Besides the outcome, that is one way Heyburn hopes his client’s second trial is different.
Opening arguments could be as early as Wednesday, and Brown is confident a jury will find him not guilty of murder after the last panel remained deadlocked in October.
“He feels better about the second trial,” Heyburn said. “There are a lot of things the prosecutor snuck in that we are prepared for now.”
Prosecutors argued at the first trial that Brown was out for revenge after he got into an earlier dustup with some of Smalley’s friends.
Brown maintained his innocence. Heyburn put on a third-party guilty defense implicating another man, Alvie “King” Vereen, for Smalley’s murder
The jury was unable to come to a verdict, vexing Smalley’s family members and Assistant Prosecutor Brian McCauley, who barely hid his disgust.
“They didn’t see the same trial I did because if they did he would be convicted right now,” he said at the time. “I cannot understand how they reached any other conclusion.”
That was one of several tense moments in an emotionally taut trial.
One of Brown’s relatives got into a tiff with Heyburn in the restrooms. Judge Andrew Smithson also blasted a newspaper reporter for printing a story about a juror who had overheard Heyburn discussing a possible “conspiracy” with Brown’s family.
The juror’s name became public after the judge did not seal the recording of the conversation, which was held behind closed doors.
Juror selection reconvenes Tuesday morning.