Jury pool could be tossed out in 19th JDC murder trial

Jury pool could be tossed out after claims of glitch eliminating young adults from random selection

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A judge will rule Thursday, April 11 whether a 566-person jury pool in a murder trial should be dismissed and a new group chosen because people aged 18 to 25 were omitted from the current pool.

Administrators at the 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge, where jury selection is taking place, admit a computer glitch has prevented anyone under the age of 26 from being chosen to report for jury duty in the parish since 2011.

The decision by District Court Judge Ramona Emmanuel is pending in the trial of Grover Cannon, who is accused of killing Shreveport Police Officer Thomas LaValley, a native of St. Amant.

LaValley’s mother left the court after a nearly five-hour hearing ordered by the state supreme court. Lawyers for the man accused of killing her son were in the middle of jury selection when they first noticed the problem.

“This is just a very, very grave mistake and the thing to do is correct it before any more mistakes are made,” said Kerry Cuccia, defense attorney.

Jury selection is taking place in Baton Rouge. Once a jury is chosen, jurors will be sequestered and taken to Caddo Parish for the trial.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

Cannon’s lawyers discovered the age issue during jury selection and asked the judge to take action.

The Louisiana Supreme Court last weekend ordered Emmanuel to hold a hearing on the matter.

Nearly 600 people were called for jury selection in this case, but not a single one of them is under the age of 26. Administrators at the district court looked into it and found out they have been getting the correct information from voter records and the like, but their computers were not successfully updating since 2011.

The defense team argued in court Wednesday that people age 18 to 25 are unique and often hold different ways of thinking than those older than them.

Grover Cannon (Source: Caddo Parish Sheriff's Office)
Grover Cannon (Source: Caddo Parish Sheriff's Office)

Court administrators were called to the stand Wednesday morning to testify about the computer glitch that prevented anyone born after 1993 from being summoned for jury duty.

There were at least 31,686 people 26 or under who were excluded from potential jury pool, according to testimony in court early Wednesday afternoon. Attorney James Craig testified he obtained those figures using courthouse electronic records.

The defense team says that is simply unfair.

“A trial based on an illegally constituted jury is not a fair and impartial trial within the meaning of the constitution," Cuccia said.

Cannon’s defense team requested a change of venue after the shooting death of Shreveport Police Officer Chatéri Payne. The defense contended that Payne’s death could likely inflame public opinion about the Cannon case. The judge agreed.

Officer Thomas LaValley (Source: Shreveport Police Department Facebook)
Officer Thomas LaValley (Source: Shreveport Police Department Facebook)

The fact that this has been going on for so long could be an issue for other trials that have already happened in East Baton Rouge Parish.

Prominent attorney, Jill Craft, who is not part of this case, says to expect lawyers to line up.

“I think you’re definitely going to see appeals no matter what,” Craft said. “Especially if there have been any, which I’m not sure that there have any, death penalty cases that have occurred in that time frame or even life imprisonment cases."

Craft says when you take out a group, in this case, based on someone’s age, it becomes problematic and possibly the subject of tremendous litigation.

“I’m not sure what impact long term that would have on the jurors that have already been selected and served, the convictions that have already been had,” Craft explained, “or even in some sense, the trials in civil court that have occurred.”

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