Jury pool winnowed to 28 for trial in post-Katrina shooting death
Jury selection in the retrial of former New Orleans police officer David Warren for the post-Katrina shooting death of Henry Glover began Monday in federal court with questioning of 47 prospective jurors —- most of them white and from outside Orleans Parish.
Just seven members of the initial pool of potential jurors live in New Orleans. Ten are black.
By day’s end, the first group was culled to 28, with another group set to appear Tuesday morning before a final jury is picked, probably by Tuesday evening.
Five of the 28 who made the initial cut Monday are black, including two of the four New Orleans residents who remain as potential jurors for the second prosecution of Warren for the rifle shot he fired a few chaotic days after Hurricane Katrina made landfall.
Warren is white, while Glover, the victim, was black.
The racial makeup of a jury can become contentious, as happened during the 2010 trial of Warren and four other police officers who stood trial as a group for Glover’s death, the burning of his body and an alleged cover-up that followed. Prosecutors in 2010 objected to U.S. District Judge Lance Africk that defense attorneys had used their “peremptory challenges” to strike all the black jurors in the pool, prompting the judge to reinstate three jurors.
Warren was convicted in that trial and sentenced to a 25-year prison sentence. But a federal appeals court threw out the conviction last year, saying his conviction was tainted by days of testimony about the subsequent burning of Glover’s body inside a white Chevrolet Malibu and the alleged whitewashing of the shooting investigation — events in which he had no role.
Federal prosecutors claim Warren was unjustified in shooting Glover, who along with a friend, Bernard Calloway, was retrieving some suitcases stuffed with looted items that a pair of female friends had left in the parking lot of an Algiers strip mall.
Warren, a rookie officer, and veteran officer Linda Howard had been guarding a 4th District detective bureau at the mall.
Warren has claimed he saw Glover holding what looked like a weapon, and that Glover and Calloway ignored a warning and were charging toward a ground-floor gate when he fired.
In a trial expected to run two weeks, Warren faces charges of violating Glover’s civil rights and illegally discharging a firearm in the commission of a crime when he fatally shot Glover with his personal rifle on Sept. 2, 2005, from a rear balcony of the mall. This time, the crime he is accused of committing no longer includes the possibility of murder or manslaughter.
Along with federal prosecutors and Warren’s attorneys, Africk questioned potential jurors individually at the bench Monday for more than five hours. The questioning could not be heard in the courtroom, muffled in part by piped-in music designed to keep other potential jurors from hearing the discussions.
All of the possible jurors had filled out lengthy questionnaires beforehand. Those questionnaires have been sealed.
Unlike a state case, the jury pool in federal court is plucked from a wider area — in this case, the 13 parishes comprising the Eastern District of Louisiana. Of the first group of potential jurors, 14 live in Jefferson Parish, 11 in St. Tammany Parish and the rest, aside from Orleans, scattered among various other area parishes.
Few of the potential jurors pleaded to be let off the case. Only one — a woman who said she cared for former U.S. Attorney Jim Letten’s mother — claimed any familiarity with anyone who has been involved in the case.
Still, 19 of those who showed up Tuesday morning were released for unexplained reasons — in many cases probably because they knew too much about the case.
After the next group is thinned Tuesday, prosecutors and Warren’s attorneys will begin to ask harder questions and use their allotted challenges — 10 for Warren, six for the government — to come up with a final jury.
Africk cautioned jurors on a variety of issues, including that they should ignore other cases of alleged police misconduct — notably, the Danziger Bridge shootings — as they weigh the evidence.
He also noted that the chaotic events following Katrina and the flooding of the city didn’t change the law.
“There was no such thing as government-imposed martial law after Hurricane Katrina. Will each of you accept that fact?” Africk asked the group.
No one shook their head to disagree.
During a lunch break outside the courthouse, Henry Glover’s aunt, Rebecca Glover, complained that federal prosecutors had told the family they didn’t need to be in court for jury selection. She said family members attended every day of the last trial and she wanted to gauge the makeup of the new jury, “who they’re selecting, what questions are asked.”
“I’m very upset about this. We don’t want to have an all-white jury,” she said, adding that she felt duped after the appeals court threw out Warren’s conviction.
“I think it was rigged from Day 1. They should have known better. They should have done the job right,” she said, directly blaming Letten for failing the family. “There was a fix put in. That’s how I feel.”
Although she did not attend Monday afternoon’s jury selection, Rebecca Glover pledged to be in the courtroom throughout the trial, despite the fact she’ll be sitting through another gruesome account of her nephew’s killing.
“I pray to the Lord to give me the strength,” she said. “I don’t know how we’re going to deal with this, this time.”