LANSING, Mich. (AP) _ Three Ku Klux Klansmen sentenced by a mostly black jury to life in prison are entitled to a hearing on whether prosecutors purposely picked jurors by race, the Michigan Court of Appeals has ruled.
A jury of 10 blacks and two whites convicted the three in January 1982 of trying to kill a George Stewart, black man who lived with a white woman.
In its ruling Thursday, the appeals panel ordered a hearing on the racial issue to be held within 28 days.
The court noted that prosecutors used 19 of 21 preremptory challenges against prospective white jurors. On the other hand, the court noted, the jury reflected the racial composition of the community.
The three white men were convicted in Detroit Recorder’s Court of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, assault with intent to commit murder, assault with intent to do great bodily harm, and felony firearm violations.
Ronald Richard Bishop, Donald James Johnson and Raymond Joseph Echlin received mandatory life sentences on the conspiracy convictions.
Defense attorney Robert Ziolkowski said Thursday that he appealed the convictions on the grounds that the mostly black jury was selected to play on the emotions in the case.
Bishop and Echlin had pleaded guilty in federal court to planning and carrying out the 1980 attack on Stewart. Johnson admitted placing a false emergency call to draw police away from Stewart’s home.
Bishop and Echlin admitted shooting at Stewart outside a bar and again at his home. No one was injured.
Bishop and Echlin were sentenced to four years in federal prison, and Johnson drew a two-year sentence.
The appeals court on July 7, 1986, denied defense arguments that the state trial should have moved because of publicity and that the defendants couldn’t get a fair trial from a mostly black jury.
It also rejected defense assertions that the three were prosecuted in state court only because they were Klan members and because prosecutors felt the federal sentences were too light.
On Feb. 24, the Michigan Supreme Court reversed that ruling and ordered the appeals judges to reconsider the case.