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Trial again focuses on racial mix in jury selection

FORT DODGE | A second attempt at jury selection is scheduled to begin Tuesday in a Northwood murder case that has raised questions about racial diversity in Iowa's jury selection process.

The entire panel of potential jurors gathered for Tyrone Washington Jr.'s first-degree murder trial in May in Webster County District Court was dismissed after it was discovered that the panel did not include any African-Americans.

Washington, 41, Northwood, allegedly stabbed to death Justina Smith, 30, also of Northwood, in Swensrud Park on Aug. 5, 2013. Washington is African-American. 

The trial had been moved out of Worth County on a change of venue due to concerns about the small percentage of African-Americans living there.

Defense attorney Charles Kenville has argued that substantial under-representation of African-Americans on the jury would hinder his client's ability to receive a fair trial.

The African-American population of Worth County is 47 people, or less than 1 percent of the county's total population of 7,598, according to 2010 U.S. Census data.

The African-American population in Webster County is estimated at 4 to 5 percent. However, of the 112 potential jurors who showed up for Washington's trial in Fort Dodge, 111 identified themselves as white. One identified himself as Native American.

Defense attorney Charles Kenville moved to have the entire panel stricken. District Judge Colleen Weiland granted the motion. 

A new trial date was set for July 7.

The parties have met to discuss different methods for obtaining names of potential jurors to get a more racially diverse pool to choose from.

The current statewide computerized system draws names of potential jurors from Iowa Department of Motor Vehicles records and voter registration records.

Counties can request other types of lists be used, but an official with the state testified that no county has ever made this request.


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