Feds: Miss. mayor can’t use race in jury selection

Published 11:12 pm Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Mayor Frank Melton is not entitled to a jury pool based on racial demographics when he faces federal charges in connection with a sledgehammer attack on a suspected crack house, federal prosecutors argued Monday in court papers.

—Melton, 59, and his former police bodyguard are charged with violating the civil rights of two people for leading a group of young men to damage the home in a vigilante raid in August 2006.

Melton and the bodyguard, Michael Recio, are facing their third trial related to the raid. Jury selection is scheduled to begin May 11.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

U.S. District Judge Daniel Jordan III decided last week to draw the jury from the state’s southern division — Mississippi’s six southernmost counties — citing intense media coverage in the Jackson area.

Melton, who is black, challenged the decision, saying those counties have a larger percentage of whites and the lack of possible black jurors wouldn’t’ allow him to be judged by a jury of his peers.

Prosecutors responded to the argument Monday in six-page motion.

“The defendant’s suggestion — is a request for the court to consciously attempt to influence the racial composition of the jury by selecting a division based on its racial make up — is flatly impermissible,” the government’s motion said. “It is well-established that defendants are not entitled to a jury of any particular racial composition, as long as the jury is fairly selected.”

A gag order in the case prohibits those involved from commenting to the media.

Melton and Recio were acquitted on state charges in April 2007 before federal prosecutors indicted them on three charges, including conspiracy to deprive the duplex’s owner and tenant of their civil rights. That trial ended in a hung jury Feb. 24.

Melton has not denied participating in the raid and says he was only trying to rid the city of a drug haven.

Prosecutors say Melton was drunk when he busted windows in the duplex, then ordered a group of teenagers to tear down an exterior wall and damage the interior with sledgehammers.

Melton, a former television executive and one-time head of the state narcotics agency, made a name for himself with a tough-talking opinion segment called “The Bottom Line” on the station he ran. He was elected by a landslide in 2005 after campaigning on a tough-on-crime platform.

He soon became a fixture in rough neighborhoods, carrying guns and participating in police checkpoints. Authorities said he went too far with his unorthodox crime fighting tactics.