Judge says no to changing venue to get more blacks on jury

Published 5:57 pm Wednesday, July 26, 2006

A federal judge has rejected a change of venue request from a defendant who wanted to move his trial to get more blacks on the jury.

U.S. District Court Judge Allen Pepper said Hezekiah Patton does not have the right to change the venue in hopes of getting a more racially favorable jury to hear the case.

Thirty-sevens defendants are involved in the case that stems from an alleged drug-ring.

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Refugio Barron Jr., Earl Webster, Tori Jackson and Kevin Matthews, other named defendants, requested similar transfers. Pepper’s decision applied to them as well.

“A defendant is not entitled to a jury of any particular composition, any racial composition, or to a jury composed, wholly or in part persons of the defendant’s own group or race,” Pepper said in the July 19 order.

Patton’s attorney, Robert Johnston of Cleveland, asked the trial be moved from Oxford to Greenville, both are in the Northern Division of the U.S. District Court.

“It has been a long standing policy, since approximately 1975, of this court, that virtually all criminal trials are arbitrarily set for and held at Oxford,” Johnston said in the motion.

Johnston said a black defendant could expect a higher percentage of minorities on a jury in the predominantly black Delta, where Greenville is located, than in Oxford, where there are more whites.

Pepper disagreed. He said the ratio of potential black jurors to whites in the Oxford area was not significantly less than the numbers that could be found throughout the Northern District.

Patton was indicted in 2005 in connection with his nephew’s alleged cocaine distribution ring, but he has denied any wrongdoing. Darell Christian, son of the former Shelby mayor and Patton’s nephew, is awaiting trial for possession of 11 kilograms of cocaine and the distribution of illegal substances.

DEA agents testified that Christian admitted to distributing over a thousand kilograms of cocaine since May 2001. Agents offered into evidence a photograph of $175,000 they said Christian told them was to be payment for cocaine.