Contra Costa County

California court overturns murder convictions, cites racism

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A California appeals court on Friday overturned the convictions of three Black men over a double slaying, saying prosecutors dismissed a Black woman from the jury pool for racial reasons.

The prosecutor in the Contra Costa County case inappropriately questioned the 25-year-old woman’s support of the Black Lives Matter movement and dismissed her for reasons that “were plainly tied to race,” said a unanimous ruling by a division of the First Appellate District of California that was reported by the Bay Area News Group.

In addition, “there was evidence that the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office in general, and this prosecutor in particular, had in the past exercised peremptory challenges on the basis of race,” Presiding Justice Jim Humes wrote in the decision.

The district attorney’s office said it was reviewing the opinion and intends to retry the three men “and ensure justice in this case.”

The ruling overturns the 2016 convictions of Sheldon Silas, 33; Reginald Whitley, 40, and Lamar Michaels, 34. The three are serving life in prison without possibility of parole for the shooting deaths of Christopher Zinn, 24, and his girlfriend, Brieanna Dow, 21.

Their bodies were found in unincorporated Antioch in 2012. Prosecutors said the killings were gang-related retaliation because Zinn was believed to have stolen guns from the group.

The unanimous decision by Division One of the First Appellate District of California says that then-Deputy District Attorney Melissa Smith’s questioning of Potential Juror 275 — the woman is not named in court records — was “inappropriate.”

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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