Appeals court: Man deserves new trial due to jury pool

Antonio Garcia-Dorantes

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A federal appeals panel Friday said a Hispanic man convicted of second-degree murder in 2001 deserves a new trial because there weren’t enough minorities represented on his jury.

Antonio Garcia-Dorantes, 37, was involved in an early morning fight in Grand Rapids on October 22, 2000. He stabbed two people, Manuel Garcia and Jose Gomez, and Gomez died from his injuries.

Garcia-Dorantes claimed self defense, saying he thought Garcia and Gomez were involved in a gang. However, Garcia-Dorantes was convicted by a jury of second-degree murder and sentenced to serve 15 to 50 years at Cooper Street Correctional Facility in Jackson with his earliest release date being October 21 of this year.

In 2002, Garcia-Dorantes filed an appeal saying he was denied his Sixth Amendment right to having a fair cross section of the community on his jury because of a computer glitch that blocked minorities from the jury selection process in Kent County at the time. That’s after Wayne Bentley, a former Grand Rapids high school teacher, discovered the computer problem that year.

The Michigan Court of Appeals denied his claim because he did not object to the jury during his trial.

Garcia-Dorantes then filed a petition in district court in 2005, and in 2013, U.S District Judge David Lawson in Detroit ordered that the state release him or bring him to trial within 70 days after determining that his Sixth Amendment right was violated and with a more diverse jury, the outcome of his trial would have most likely been different.

In a 2-1 vote Friday, the federal appeals panel upheld that ruling.

The Garcia-Dorantes case is similar to one Target 8 covered in April involving Diapolis Smith, who is an African-American man serving life in prison after being convicted of second-degree murder by an all-white jury in 1993.

Smith’s case made it to the U.S. Supreme Court and the justices ruled he shouldn’t get a new trial.

Judge Gilbert Merritt, one of the judges on the Garcia-Dorantes federal appeals panel, used Smith’s case as an example in the dissent saying Garcia-Dorantes also shouldn’t get a new trial.

In the dissent, Merritt said “I disagree with the opinion of my colleague, Judge Rogers, that the writ should issue setting aside the State’s judgment in the case.”

Merritt then listed his reasons.

“First, the number of available black jurors in Kent County, Michigan, remains much below ten percent–in line with the case from Kent County recently decided by the United States Supreme Court in 2010, Berghuis v. Smith, 559 U.S. 314, in which the Court held that the trial by an all-white jury in a similar situation did not violate the Sixth Amendment…..The Supreme Court observed that the number of non-white jurors seemed to be further substantially reduced because of social and economic factors leading potential black jurors at times to avoid serving by not responding to mail notice to appear,” read the dissent in part.

However, Judges John Rogers and Dan Polster were a part of the majority and ruled that Garcia-Dorantes deserves a new trial.

Target 8 also found minorities are still underrepresented on jury pools in Kent and Kalamazoo counties.

Census data for Kent County shows African American and Latino populations each make up about 10 percent of the community, but only 6 percent of prospective jurors are African American and 3.9 percent are Latino.

In Kalamazoo County, census data shows the African American population at around 11 percent and the Latino population at 4.5 percent. Court data collected last year shows just 6 percent of Kalamazoo County jurors were African American and 1.6 percent of Latinos were represented in the jury pool.

There is pending legislation that would change the way jurors are selected in Michigan.

House bills 4406 and 4407 would add the names of people who file for income tax and people who are registered to vote.

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