By Sue Fernandez
ANNAPOLIS – The Maryland Court of Appeals Tuesday turned down a convicted murderer’s request for a new trial, saying that the dismissal of several potential jurors from his case was not racially motivated.
The court, in a unanimous ruling, upheld a decision by Prince George’s Circuit Court Judge James Magruder Rea, who said state’s attorneys had other valid, race-neutral reasons for dismissing the jurors in the case of Peter Donald Harley.
Harley was charged with murder and related offenses for the 1991 killing of Timothy Kidd, who was shot in the head when a drug buy went awry in the Nalley Road apartment complex of Washington Heights, said Asst. Attorney General Gary E. Bair.
Upon his conviction in 1992, Harley was sentenced to life imprisonment with no possible parole on the felony murder charge, and a concurrent term of 25 years in prison on a handgun charge.
In February 1993, Harley appealed for a new trial to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, saying prosecutors dismissed four potential jurors from his trial simply because they were black.
Harley’s argument was based on a 1986 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that said a juror cannot be struck solely on the basis of race, Bair said. Doing so violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the court said in Batson vs. Kentucky.
Harley’s intitial appeal was to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, which sent his case back to circuit court because the trial judge hadn’t looked deeply enough at the reasons the four black jurors were struck, court records show.
The judge, upon re-examination, found that state’s attorneys reasons for dismissing the potential jurors – age, marital status, and want of another specific juror – were race-neutral in each instance.
Harley then appealed that result to the Court of Special Appeals, but the Court of Appeals intervened and took the case for itself.
The Court of Appeals opinion, ruling against Harley, noted that nine of the 12 regular jurors and both alternates in his case were black.
State’s attorneys have argued that the four struck jurors were dismissed for race-neutral reasons: two because they were under age 30, which made them less “stable” than other potential jurors, according to court records, and two because the state wanted to pick another juror, a police officer, later on the list.
But John L. Kopolow, the assistant public defender who represented Harley during the appeals process, said he still doesn’t accept the state’s argument. “Simply saying he wants to reach other jurors hasn’t stated a race-neutral reason,” Kopolow said. -30-