BALTIMORE, JULY 24 -- A federal judge here has rejected claims by convicted black Washington heroin trafficker Isaac J. Tindle that prosecutors deliberately blocked blacks from serving on the jury that convicted him in 1983.
U.S. District Judge Alexander Harvey II ruled that although Tindle was convicted by an all-white jury, the five black potential jurors on the selection panel were not selected by prosecutors for "bona fide reasons" having nothing to do with race.
Tindle's attorneys say they will appeal the ruling.
The case is one of a growing number filed by black defendants across the country in the wake of a Supreme Court ruling last year that requires trial judges to determine whether a prosecutor purposefully used the so-called peremptory strike -- elimination of a prospective juror without giving a public reason -- to exclude blacks.
The Supreme Court said the ruling can be applied retroactively to criminal cases in which the defendant raised the exclusion issue at trial. The ruling thus has spawned numerous appeals throughout the country, including at least three in Maryland, according to several lawyers.
Tindle, 44, described by prosecutors as a former millionaire drug trafficker who owned a posh Prince George's County house and several luxury cars, was convicted in November 1983 of conspiracy to distribute heroin and was sentenced to 50 years' imprisonment.
At his sentencing in January 1984, the flamboyant Tindle lashed out at the judge, prosecutors and his own defense attorney -- all of them white -- accusing them of a racist plot to railroad him.
With the Supreme Court ruling last year on exclusion of blacks from juries, Tindle renewed efforts to get a new trial, claiming prosecutors had systematically eliminated the few blacks on the selection panel drawn from a statewide pool of prospective jurors.
Judge Harvey turned the claim aside, ruling that prosecutors Ty Cobb and Donna H. Triptow had provided him with satisfactory nonracial reasons for striking each of five blacks and one white on the panel of 31 prospective jurors.
One black, for example, was seen talking during jury selection with a Tindle codefendant, Harvey said. Another, he said, was unemployed but was believed to have worked earlier as a construction laborer "near an area where the Tindle narcotics operation was conducted." A third black was a horse trainer. Two government witnesses, both admittedly involved in illegal activities with Tindle, also were horse trainers. Prosecutors struck the horse trainer, Harvey said, because they feared he would be "contemptuous" of the two government witnesses "and not accept their testimony."
Another juror was struck because her name resembled that of a well-known convicted murderer whom Cobb had prosecuted. A fifth juror resembled a Tindle codefendant and lived in Suitland. Tindle had made some telephone calls to Suitland involving his drug activity, Harvey said.
Harvey rejected Tindle's contention that the reasons were a "mere sham" to cover the prosecutors' true intention to exclude blacks. He noted that the chief law enforcement officer in the case against Tindle was a black District of Columbia police lieutenant who participated in the jury selection. The lieutenant testified that "race was not a factor" in striking black jurors "and was not even raised once during discussions" on selection of the jury, Harvey said.