Jury May Be a Focal Point of John White’s Appeal

The New York Times is reporting that at the beginning of deliberations, the panel weighing the fate of a black man from Long Island charged with manslaughter turned to its lone black juror for guidance.

“The forewoman said, ‘You’re the only African-American here, we want to know how you feel about the racial stuff and the N-word, and we’ll follow your lead,’ ” recalled Richard Burke, at 66 the eldest of the 12 Suffolk County residents on the jury. “He said, ‘Being African-American, I really hate to hear the word.’ But he was against this thing being a racial thing from the beginning. After that, we went around the table, each giving our views.”

Then the jury listened to prayers led by Mr. Burke, a born-again Baptist who insisted that God would assure a just verdict if the jury followed “our country’s laws as handed down by Moses.”

For four days last month, six men and six women locked in a windowless jury room in Riverhead agonized over the fate of the man, John H. White, before finding him guilty of second-degree manslaughter for shooting an unarmed white teenager point-blank in the face on Aug. 9, 2006.

After more than three weeks of testimony, the jurors heard defense lawyers say in closing arguments that Mr. White, 54, had been defending his home and family against what he had regarded as a “lynch mob” after he was awakened by a group of white teenagers shouting racial epithets at his son, Aaron, then 19, and baiting Aaron to come out and fight. The lawyers said that Mr. White grabbed a loaded, unlicensed pistol to confront the mob and wound up accidentally killing Daniel Cicciaro Jr., 17.

The guilty verdict, delivered on Dec. 22, was immediately denounced by Mr. White’s lawyers as proof of racism in Suffolk County. The Rev. Al Sharpton has planned a protest at the courthouse for Saturday.

Two jurors have told reporters that they buckled under duress, a decision they say they regret. They say they still have reasonable doubt that prosecutors proved the charges against Mr. White, who is free on $100,000 bail and faces a maximum sentence of 5 to 15 years when he returns to court on Feb. 21.

Now those four days of deliberations are of extreme interest to Mr. White’s lawyers, who hope to use the testimony of the jurors in their appeal.

They have already spoken to one of the holdout jurors, Donna Marshak, 63, who said she changed her mind and her vote after another juror blurted out that Mr. White would be safer in prison because the victim’s father would kill him if he were acquitted. The other, François Larché, said last week that he was willing to speak to the lawyers.

Their comments characterized the tense proceedings by a jury that included a black man and a white South African who grew up during apartheid, according to interviews with Mr. Burke, Mrs. Marshak and Mr. Larché, the South African. The other nine jurors either could not be contacted or declined to speak, though several told news organizations the deliberations had been thorough and the holdouts had not been pressured.

Given the racial overtones, the black juror’s immediate support of a guilty verdict helped pave the way for the other jurors to speak more freely in support of a guilty verdict, according to Mrs. Marshak and Mr. Burke.

“He was adamant that White was guilty, and they all went with that,” Mrs. Marshak said of the black juror. “It was a touchy subject, and once they all saw that he felt that way, it was easier for them.”

The battle lines were drawn: Mrs. Marshak and Mr. Larché against the others, who compared Mr. Larché to Henry Fonda’s character in the film “Twelve Angry Men.” That character frustrated the other jurors by insisting they not rush to a guilty verdict. But the Fonda character, Mr. Larché persuaded no one. For four days, jurors tried to convince Mrs. Marshak and Mr. Larché. Two jurors knitted. Six took part in frequent prayer sessions — repeating the Lord’s Prayer and Hail Marys — punctuated by sermons from Mr. Burke.

Mr. Larché and Mrs. Marshak did not participate. “I would bow my head, but not pray aloud,” Mrs. Marshak said. “I didn’t think it was the place for it.” – Click here for the rest of this article.

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