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State v. Harris

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, Fifth Division

April 25, 2017

STATE OF MISSOURI, Respondent,
v.
JOHN H. HARRIS II, Appellant.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cape Girardeau County Honorable Benjamin F. Lewis

          Philip M. Hess, Chief Judge.

         Introduction

         John Henry Harris ("Appellant") appeals the judgment of the Circuit Court of Cape Girardeau County, following a jury trial, convicting him of one count of first-degree child molestation in violation of § 566.067[1] and one count of first-degree statutory sodomy in violation of § 566.062. The trial court sentenced Appellant to two fifteen-year sentences to run consecutively. On appeal, Appellant argues that the trial court clearly erred in overruling his Batson challenge because the State's peremptory strike of an African-American juror was pretextual and racially motivated. We affirm.

         Factual and Procedural History

         Appellant was charged as a prior offender with one count of first-degree child molestation and one count of first-degree statutory sodomy resulting from incidents in August 2014 and October 2014. His jury trial commenced on March 29, 2016. During voir dire, the prosecutor asked the venire panel whether anyone had ever been arrested or charged with a crime other than a traffic offense. Venireperson L.B. stated that he was charged with public intoxication when he was a teenager. L.B. stated that the charge would not affect his ability to be impartial.

         The prosecutor then asked the venire panel whether anyone would be unable to be fair in hearing the case for any other reason. Several jurors expressed an inability to be impartial due to the nature of the charges. However, venireperson C.B., an African-American man, stated:

Well, you know, in my opinion, you know, and I'm not taking sides, but this man is on trial and this is his life, you know. In that certain instance, we have to hold the girls accountable for what they say because none of us is on trial for this. This is a serious matter. This man - you know, he can go to jail for a long time, you know, so in that question, yes, I'm going to hold them accountable for it, you know. I mean I'm not going to say that they need to detail every single thing, but they have to be pretty accurate with their information.

         When the prosecutor asked C.B. whether he would be able to accept the word of a child, he answered: "Yes, yes, as long as it's accurate, you know. I just - I would rather be fair, you know. To say that this man is guilty for these acts and not have any facts and just accusation, you're going to have to take everyone's word accountable."

         Following the voir dire, the court took private questions from venire panelists. Venireperson M.A. disclosed to the judge that he was once convicted of a felony. The judge informed M.A. that he was not eligible for jury service and released him. C.B. disclosed that he was convicted of misdemeanor assault in 2007 and stated that he listed the crime on his jury questionnaire. The judge then remarked that C.B. was the only member of the venire panel that raised their hand when defense counsel asked if anyone wanted to be on the jury. In response, C.B. stated, "Yeah, because it seemed like it's not going to be a fair trial. It's kind of short. It's not a lot of people and it's a lot of mixed emotions and I just feel like honestly I'm the only one that's really looking at both sides just to me."

         When the prosecutor then asked whether C.B. wanted to be on the jury to "to make sure that you can make it fair [to the defendant], " the following exchange took place:

[C.B.]: That's a good question. I wouldn't say I'm trying to make it fair to him. I just - instead of feelings being involved in the judgment, the actual facts, and you know, the details be brought out to light truthfully.
[The prosecutor]: Do you feel like you're kind of leaning towards his side?
[C.B.]: No, because this is a terrible, terrible crime and I just want everything to be brought ...

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