All-white jury seated in Armstrong trial; sole black prospect excluded

The only black candidate in the jury pool for the trial of veteran black lawmaker state Rep. Joe Armstrong was tossed out Tuesday afternoon at the behest of prosecutors — but not without a fight.

Further from the News Sentinel:

The rejected juror was a 60-year-old native Knoxville woman who is retired after serving most of her life as a home health caregiver. Her education was limited. She did not attend high school but has a GED.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Charles Atchley Jr., initially sought to boot her off the panel because he said she appeared “disengaged” in the jury selection process.

“She just gave me the impression she did not want to be here,” Atchley said. “She gave me the impression she was just disinterested in the issues.”

He also cited her lack of formal education.

“This is a complicated case,” Atchley told Senior U.S. District Judge Thomas Phillips.

Under a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, the defense may challenge a prosecutor’s motive in eliminating a black juror even though each side is allowed to kick out a certain number of people without giving a reason. Defense attorney Gregory P. Isaacs balked at Atchley’s bid to remove the only black person in a pool of more than 60 people.

“What we have here is a completely subjective basis … saying, basically, ‘I didn’t like the way she looked,’ ” Isaacs said.

…But the judge ruled Atchley’s concern over the woman’s educational level was a valid reason for his move to exclude her from the panel. The U.S. Supreme Court didn’t say blacks cannot be excluded as jurors — only that they cannot be excluded simply because of their race.

“It appears to the court she may well have difficulty following the evidence in this case,” the judge said.

A jury of 14 people, which includes two alternates, has now been seated. All are white and most are older. Eight are women.