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Prosecutor’s ‘white world’ remarks lead appeals court to order new murder trial

Posted Sep 16, 2013 8:17 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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An Illinois appeals court has granted a new trial to a murder defendant because of the prosecutor’s racial remarks.

The court said the prosecutor had referred to “our white world” and made race “an egregious and consistent theme throughout the trial,” the Associated Press reports. The story identifies the prosecutor as Williamson County State’s Attorney Charles Garnati.

The defendant, Marcus Marshall, was black while the jury was all white. He was convicted of murder in 2011.

Garnati had sought to downplay a brief recantation by two witnesses with the “white world” comment. The witnesses had originally implicated Marshall in statements to investigators, then recanted, then testified against Marshall.

Garnati had told jurors they needed to understand “the culture of the black community here in Marion," according to the opinion (PDF).

“Please, you have to keep in the back of your mind how many people in that community feel about law enforcement,” Garnati said in his closing argument. “You have to understand and keep in mind how they react to the police and to the prosecutors. Sometimes for people like us, that’s hard to understand. People were brought up to believe that the police were their friends, that when something happens, when we are in trouble, that the police are our friends. … But in the black community here in Marion, it’s just the opposite. Most, for whatever reasons, most of these people were raised to believe that the police and prosecutors are the enemy; that for some reason, we are always out to get them. In their mindset, the biggest sin that you could—that you can commit is to be a snitch in the community. The biggest sin that you could commit is to ever cooperate with the police on anything. It’s sin to even cooperate when one of your own people gets brutally gunned down and is left to bleed to death. And I am not saying that the whole black community is like that, ladies and gentlemen. There are some very good law-abiding citizens in that community here in Marion. But the evidence has shown that again, for whatever reasons, there is an intense dislike and even hatred for the police.”

At another point, Garnati said, “Now, in our white world, ladies and gentlemen, our automatic reaction in that type of situation, if somebody gives a statement to the police and then later on changes their story, the automatic response would be that that person is not truthful and there is a problem with their credibility. But again, please look at their testimony and what they did and what they didn’t do through the eyes of the people who are raised, again, to feel that the police are always against them and they cannot trust the police.”

Last year Garnati told AP that lawyers sometimes question “whether we could have said things more artfully” but he is not racist. “I spoke thousands of words during that trial,” he said, “and a couple of sentences have been taken out of context.”

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