Oregon court says jurors shouldn’t have heard N-word in case

April 4, 2018

This undated photo provided by the Multnomah County Sheriff's office shows Wayne Roberts. The Oregon Court of Appeals says a new trial is necessary for Roberts, convicted of first-degree assault, who contends a judge should have excluded evidence that he used a racial slur during an interview with police detectives. (Multnomah County Sheriff's Office via AP)

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The Oregon Court of Appeals said Wednesday that a new trial is necessary for a man who contends his use of a racial slur during an interview with police detectives should not have been heard by jurors.

Wayne Roberts, 53, was convicted of first-degree assault three years ago after prosecutors said he stabbed and critically injured another man at a light-rail platform in Gresham. Roberts said he acted in self-defense.

Detectives interviewed Roberts the morning after his arrest in December 2014. During their talk, the homeless man used the N-word when referring to a woman who may have witnessed the altercation.

The defense argued for the slur to be scrubbed from the video of the interrogation shown to jurors, saying it added nothing to the case and could lead to unfair prejudice against Roberts.

Multnomah County Judge Edward Jones denied that motion.

“The bottom line is, you know, if we start sanitizing everybody’s statements, where does that end?” he said, according to a transcript.

The appeals court, however, said the epithet lacked value in the case, noting that Roberts and the victim were both white and police were unable to find the possible witness the defendant referred to.

“The introduction of such evidence, in a case where it lacks any probative value, presents the risk that the jury would be tempted to deliver a verdict on the improper ground that defendant is a racist who deserves to be punished,” Judge Chris Garrett wrote in the opinion.

In a dissenting opinion, Senior Judge Walter Edmonds said there is little likelihood the verdict hinged on the slur.

The jury voted 10-2 to convict Roberts, who was sentenced to seven years in prison. Oregon, unlike most states, allows juries to convict most felony defendants with a 10-2 vote, though it does require a unanimous verdict for a murder conviction.

The appeals court majority highlighted that the verdict was not unanimous in Roberts’ case.

“We decline to speculate about how the jury weighed and relied on all of the evidence, and we cannot agree with the dissent that the admission of defendant’s inflammatory epithet had little likelihood of affecting the verdict,” Garrett wrote.


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