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News : Missouri Appeals Court Overturns Abduction Conviction
Posted by Randy on 2014/8/4 4:22:57 (414 reads) News by the same author

( — A state appeals court has overturned the conviction of an Oklahoma man in the 2011 kidnapping and assault of two women south of Joplin because the trial judge did not allow the defendant’s family in the courtroom during jury selection.
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The Court of Appeals for the Southern District of Missouri decided that Associate Circuit Judge John LePage violated Johnny R. Davis Jr.’s Sixth Amendment right to a public trial by closing the courtroom during the voir dire portion of his trial in March of last year.

A jury convicted Davis, 35, on two counts of kidnapping and two counts of first-degree assault at the trial that was moved to Pineville on a change of venue from Newton County. The judge later assessed Davis four, concurrent 15-year terms that were to be served in the Missouri prison system after he finishes a 30-year sentence in Oklahoma for raping a teacher.

Davis was on parole for that crime when he allegedly abducted the two women, ages 29 and 39, the morning of Dec. 26, 2011, on Cedar Drive south of the Petro truck stop. The women, neither of whom knew the defendant, were attempting to score some methamphetamine and had been directed by text message to meet a man who would take them to a friend.

The women alleged that Davis assaulted them instead, forced them into his truck and drove them to Oklahoma, where he made them perform various sexual acts with him.

Before jury selection began at Davis’ trial, the defendant’s attorney asked that accommodations be made for the public. The judge denied the request, citing the limited seating capacity of the courtroom and the number of potential jurors called. But 14 seats in the jury box were left open throughout the voir dire procedure.

Trial court records acknowledged that after the first break in jury selection, the defendant’s family members had arrived and asked to come in and were told they could not, and that Davis’ attorney then once again raised an objection.

The appeals court cited a U.S. Supreme Court ruling 30 years ago affirming that the constitutional guarantee of a public trial extends to jury selection and pretrial hearings. Waller v. Georgia established four criteria to ensure that the closing of any portion of a trial pass constitutional muster.

First, whichever party wishes to have the courtroom closed must cite “an overriding interest likely to be prejudiced unless the proceeding is closed.” The denial of the public’s access should never be any broader than is necessary to protect that interest; the court must consider “reasonable alternatives” to closing a proceeding; and the judge must find that the overriding interest is adequate to support the measure.

Another Supreme Court ruling four years ago reversed a conviction because the trial judge had closed jury selection without considering all reasonable alternatives.

The state appeals court ruling noted that its members had declined last year to overturn the murder conviction of Eddie Salazar in Jasper County on similar grounds because the trial court’s records did not show that anyone actually was prevented from attending jury selection by the judge’s closing of the proceeding. Salazar, of Carthage, was sentenced to life in prison after being convicted in the murder of his infant son in 2010.

In fact, according to the appeals court ruling, the Waller case’s requirements may not be widely known among Missouri judges and prosecutors since the appeal of Salazar’s conviction is the only other case in the state that has cited Waller, and that ruling was handed down after Davis’ trial. The court further noted that “it likely did not help that Davis’ counsel never mentioned Waller and cited (the other relevant Supreme Court case) only after the jury had been selected and sworn.”

Jake Skouby, the Newton County prosecutor, acknowledged that the closure of courtrooms for jury selection has been somewhat noncontroversial until now. In general, people seldom wish to watch jury selection, he said. But, if they do want to observe the proceeding, they are entitled, he said. He said Davis’ trial was the only case he knows in which an actual record was made of the denial of access and the defense’s objection.

The prosecutor said a hearing has been scheduled for the remanded case Aug. 20 in Pineville.

“We are making arrangements to get Mr. Davis back and are securing transcripts from the first trial,” Skouby said. “We intend to try him again.”

Second citing

MORE THAN 1,000 APPELLATE RULINGS in other states have cited the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Waller v. Georgia over the past 30 years. But the only rulings handed down in Missouri to cite the case have concerned the 2012 murder conviction of Eddie Salazar and last year’s conviction of Johnny Davis Jr. on kidnapping and assault charges.

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