December 13, 2017 at 12:50 AM
Three Kansas men accused of plotting to massacre Somali-Muslim immigrants have asked a federal judge to make sure that jurors from parts of the state that voted overwhelmingly for President Trump are included in their upcoming trial.
In papers filed last week in U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas, attorneys for the men argued that the court was discriminating against their clients by excluding prospective jurors from rural counties where Trump won over Hillary Clinton by more than 50 percentage points.
“A political difference between the two parties also extends to their respective ideologies regarding the appropriate size and power of the federal government and the individual rights of its citizens,” the attorneys wrote. “This case is uniquely political because much of the anticipated evidence will center on, and was in reaction to, the 2016 Presidential election.”
“Additionally,” the filing read, “this case will require the jury to evaluate and weigh evidence regarding whether the alleged conduct constitutes the crimes charged or whether it was constitutionality protected speech, assembly and petition, and/or the right to bear arms.”
Curtis Allen, Gavin Wright and Patrick Eugene Stein were charged in October 2016 with conspiring to bomb a mosque and an apartment complex in Garden City, Kan., that housed Muslim immigrants from Somalia.
Calling themselves “the Crusaders,” the men planned to strike after the Nov. 8 election, using cars to set off explosions around the complex at prayer time, in an attack similar to the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, according to prosecutors. They hoped the resulting “bloodbath” would spark a religious war, prosecutors said.
Their trial is set for March. Allen, Wright and Stein have pleaded not guilty.
Irene Oritseweyinmi Joe, a law professor at the University of California at Davis, said such a request by defense attorneys isn’t out of the ordinary in a federal criminal case. In federal court, lawyers are generally more restricted in their ability to question prospective jurors than they are in state court, so they look for opportunities to seat a jury more likely to fit their theory of the case, she said.
“Because there’s no automatic constitutional guarantee to a particular type of juror, except for the right to an impartial juror, the lawyers recognize that filing a motion in advance to say that the jury pool is problematic is one way for them to have a say in the jurors that they might get,” Joe told The Washington Post.
Federal law bars discrimination in jury selection on the basis of race, sex, religion and other factors. Political orientation is not explicitly protected under the law, but attorneys for the “Crusaders” contend their clients won’t get a fair trial because rural, conservative-leaning jurors are being shut out through the court’s jury-selection practices.
Under local jury procedures, the court draws prospective jurors exclusively from urban counties surrounding Wichita, where the trial is scheduled to take place. Defense attorneys say that’s unfair to the trio, whose alleged crimes occurred in western Kansas.
According to the filing, voter data showed that Trump beat Clinton by about 28 percentage points in the Wichita-Hutchinson jury division, from which the court will summon prospective jurors for the men’s trial. By contrast, defense attorneys wrote, Trump beat Clinton by roughly 55 percentage points in the Dodge City jury division, a 28-county region whose citizens are excluded from serving on federal trial juries in Wichita.
The current practice is “political gerrymandering” that violates the defendants’ Sixth Amendment rights to an impartial jury that reflects the makeup of the community, attorneys for Allen wrote.
“Stated another way, a prospective juror who lives in a county within the Dodge City jury division is twice as likely to be a Trump voter than a prospective juror who lives in a county within the Wichita-Hutchinson jury division,” read the filing, which was joined by attorneys for the other two men.
There is nothing legally preventing the court from tapping prospective jurors from both divisions, the filing adds.
“A jury pool that systematically excludes jurors from the Dodge City jury division results in exclusion of a disproportionate portion of residents holding certain conservative political beliefs,” the attorneys wrote. “The current practice thus wholly discriminates against citizens of the twenty-eight counties who make up the Dodge City jury division who have more conservative political views.”
Prosecutors told the Associated Press they were “evaluating the motion.”
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