Circuit clerk takes issue with jury claims

Tuesday, March 26, 2002

JACKSON, Mo. -- The circuit clerk in Cape Girardeau County objects to a defense attorney's recent assertion that a small jury pool here limited the chance that blacks would be included on his client's jury.

Death row inmate Terrance L. Anderson, 26, appealed his case to the Missouri Supreme Court this month, with his attorney alleging problems with Cape Girardeau County's jury selection.

In January 2001, an all-white Cape Girardeau County jury convicted Anderson, who is black, of two counts of first-degree murder for the July 25, 1997, shooting deaths of Stephen and Deborah Rainwater in their Poplar Bluff, Mo., home.

Seeking a new trial, public defender Janet Thompsen said Cape Girardeau County's list of potential jurors should have included about 3,000 names because state law requires a randomly chosen jury pool of at least 5 percent of a county's population.

She alleged only 750 names were in the pool.

Circuit Clerk Charles Hutson said Cape Girardeau's master list for the jury pool at the time of the Anderson trial contained 33,397 names, made up of drivers' license registrations and voter registrations.

It's the master list that is required to be made up of 5 percent of the population, Hutson said.

'A complete fabrication'

After a March 7 story about the Anderson appeal appeared in the Southeast Missourian, Hutson wrote a letter to Attorney General Jay Nixon questioning Thompsen's allegations.

A reply to Hutson from Nixon dated March 11 said, "The defense position was, as you noticed, a complete fabrication."

At issue is the definition of "master list." Hutson, who has been circuit clerk for 27 years, said the master list is the list of all potential jurors.

Thompsen seems to be arguing that the master list is the list of potential jurors immediately available for duty, Hutson said.

Every three months, 750 qualified potential jurors are pulled from the master list, chosen by random computer selection, said Hutson.

As for the allegations of racial bias, Hutson said it's impossible to determine the racial makeup of a jury pool until potential jurors are called for duty at trial time.

The 750 people selected receive questionnaires. Before the questionnaire, Hutson only knows a juror's name, address, gender and driver's license number.

Unless excused, the 750 are required to remain available for jury duty for three months.

After the questionnaire, Hutson has more information, including length of residence, age, employer and educational background. Race isn't one of the questions.

When a trial is scheduled, between 45-60 names are randomly selected from the pool of 750, again by computer program.

Jury pools used to be selected solely from voter registration rolls in the county. In March 1992, the county expanded its rolls to include drivers' licenses, nearly doubling the number of potential jurors.

Periodically updated

The State Court Administrator's office periodically updates its list of potential juror names from driver's license registrations and sends Hutson a disc full of names to download into the county's computer system.

During the questionnaire process, jurors are asked for possible reasons they can't serve.

Hutson excuses people for medical reasons and sometimes for seasonal work reasons, like finals week for university students or harvest time for farmers.

Thompsen said the practice doesn't conform with the law. She maintains that only a judge has the power to excuse people.

Hutson said the board of jury commissioners -- which includes local judges-- granted him that power, he said.

The high court hasn't yet ruled on the Anderson case.

335-6611, extension 160

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