Darnell Moore was charged with murder. He was black. Almost every potential juror was white. We made an issue of it. After his conviction, the Courts must now decide whether he was deprived of a representative jury.
"NORWICH — A Norwich murder case will help decide the legal issue of whether the state should do more to make sure a jury reflects a community’s racial composition.
The state Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Jan. 18 in the case of State v. Darnell Moore.
Moore, who is African-American, is appealing his murder conviction on the grounds that too few African-Americans from New London County were given a chance to serve on his jury.
The 29-year-old Moore is serving a 53-year prison sentence for gunning down 31-year-old Nambi Smart shortly before 11 p.m. the night of Aug. 26, 2010, outside Smart’s home on Lake Street in Norwich.
According to testimony at Moore’s murder trial in 2012, Smart got into an argument with Moore earlier in the evening over liquor and it resulted in Smart ripping Moore’s T-shirt. After Smart and Moore were separated, Moore pointed his finger at Smart like a gun and said, “I got something for you later.”
Moore then called Samuel Gomez, of Montville, and asked him to bring him a gun, which Gomez did, then Moore drove down Lake Street to see if Smart was outside. He then walked with the .45 caliber pistol from Spaulding Street to Lake Street, and returned a short time later, telling Gomez he shot Moore.
Other witnesses identified Moore as walking up to where Smart was sitting outside his home, although no one said they saw Moore actually pull the trigger. Police also never found the murder weapon, which testimony indicated was dropped at the scene and taken away by someone else.
During jury selection for Moore’s trial, his defense lawyer, Norman Pattis, objected that out of 120 potential jurors questioned, all of them were white except for three African-American women and one man who appeared to be African-American but said he was Hispanic.
A hearing was held on Pattis’ request to pick a new jury, and the defense attorney questioned several state officials responsible for gathering the data — such as of licensed drivers, voters, those collecting unemployment benefits and filing state income taxes — used in making the lists of people to call to jury duty.
Every one of the officials testified they don’t ask and don’t know the races of the people on their lists. In addition, by law, a questionnaire filled out by potential jurors makes a question on race optional to answer.
Judge Barbara Jongbloed, who presided over the trial, ruled that that lack of racial data made it impossible to know whether African-Americans were being unfairly kept off juror lists and that the trial could go ahead.
Pattis wanted to make his challenge to the jury selection based on 2010 census data, which said African-Americans were 11 percent of Connecticut’s population and 6.5 percent of New London County’s.
But a November 2016 ruling by the state Appellate Court found that census data shouldn’t be used because it gives only the racial breakdown of all residents, not those who are eligible to serve on juries.
“In light of the dearth of evidence with respect to the relevant factors at issue in the present claim, we conclude that the defendant has not demonstrated that the court erroneously rejected his fair cross-section argument,” the ruling said.
Now Moore’s written appeal to the state Supreme Court not only asks that he get a new trial with a more racially balanced jury, it asks the high court to order all the state’s courts to collect racial and ethnic data from potential jurors in every trial.
“The issue of diversity and fairness in the jury system at the core of our administration of criminal justice, and the contemporaneous recognition and concern with the evils of racial discrimination, however unintentional, is one of the utmost seriousness for both the integrity of a particular trial and the perceived fairness of the judicial system as a whole,” Moore’s attorney, Kenneth Rosenthal, argued in his appeal.
The Supreme Court will issue its decision in several months or longer."