Questions about a Howard County juror's citizenship status yesterday prompted attorneys for a Columbia man convicted of killing his young stepson to request a new trial.
Juror Adeyemi Alade, a Nigerian immigrant, testified at a hearing in Howard County Circuit Court yesterday that he is a legal U.S. resident but not a U.S. citizen. Citizenship is a requirement under Maryland law for serving on a jury.
Alade, a graduate student at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, was a member of a jury that this month convicted Marcus D. Owens of second-degree murder in the beating death of Owens's 2-year-old stepson. Owens is awaiting sentencing.
Alade testified yesterday that after the trial, he called the Howard jury commissioner after being asked by a fellow university student how he could serve on a jury as a noncitizen.
Alade checked off "qualified" on a juror form before the trial, but he did not answer the question about U.S. citizenship. He testified yesterday that the oversight was not deliberate.
Judge Diane O. Leasure, who presided at the trial, heard testimony about Alade. She has not yet ruled on the motion for a new trial.
Louis P. Willemin, an attorney for Owens, filed a request yesterday for a new trial, saying that it was "in the interest of justice." Willemin wrote that "citizenship is an indication of the shared values and the community of Americans."
State's Attorney Timothy J. McCrone said he did not think a new trial was necessary because "it's not like this was someone who intentionally engaged in some sort of deception."
"A jury verdict is a very sacred thing and is . . . set aside only in the most extreme of circumstances," McCrone said. He said it was the first time he could remember that a juror's citizenship status was questioned after a trial.
County courts use motor vehicle registration records to compile lists of potential jurors. U.S. citizenship is not required for a driver's license.
Forms that potential jurors are required to fill out list qualifications such as citizenship, residency, English-language ability and health. Potential jurors also are asked whether they have been convicted of a felony.
Those being considered for a trial fill out questionnaires on whether they know the lawyers or defendants involved or might have other biases, and they are questioned by defense attorneys and prosecutors. McCrone said that the "system is not perfect" and could let unqualified jurors through.
However, he said, people who try to fool the system usually do so not to get on a jury, but to evade jury duty.