Lawyer Failure Helps N.J. Death-Row Inmate
Posted Jun 6, 2007 9:37 AM CST
By Debra Cassens Weiss
The New Jersey Supreme Court has ordered a new trial for a black death-row inmate because his lawyers and the trial judge failed to pursue a juror’s potential bias.
The court vacated the death sentence for Donald Loftin despite its conclusion there was “overwhelming evidence” that he killed a gas-station attendant, the New York Times reports.
Anonymous callers had told the trial judge that the juror, who was white, told co-workers he was going to the hardware store to buy a rope to hang the defendant.
“There is no room in a capital trial for a juror who expresses a preconceived opinion of a defendant’s guilt,” the court said in its June 5 opinion.
A trial judge allowed the juror to remain after he said his co-workers thought he was prejudiced and he made the statement to stop them from harassing him. He later became an alternate.
The prosecutor in the case said he would ask the court to reconsider its ruling.