Jury Selection Begins Monday In Vote Fraud Trial
MOBILE, Ala. (AP) _ Defense attorneys in a bitterly contested vote fraud case say they need a racially mixed jury to hear the trial of three black activists. Jury selection begins Monday.
Defense attorneys contend the charges are racially motivated and ″vindictive″ because of their clients’ political activities.
Prosecutors said the charges stem from complaints by black officials, and accuse defense lawyers of trying to discourage witnesses from testifying.
U.S. District Judge Emmett Cox indicated at a hearing last week he wanted to retain the common practice of only the judge questioning the jurors.
Jury selection in Mobile is expected to take two days, and the trial is slated to begin Wednesday in Selma, the site of civil rights demonstrations in the 1960s that captured national attention.
One of the defendants, Albert Turner, helped organize some of the demonstrations before Congress passed the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
Turner, his wife Evelyn, and Spencer Hogue Jr., all of Marion, are charged with committing 29 acts of voter fraud in Perry County.
The three, leaders of the Perry County Civic League, were indicted in January in a continuing federal investigation of voting practices in five poor, predominantly black counties in rural west-central Alabama. Five Greene County residents also were indicted and await trial.
″The votes that had been altered without the permission of the voters involved a change to a black candidate supported by the defendants from another black candidate. The alleged fraud is, without contradiction, black on black,″ said Assistant U.S. Attorney E.T. Rolison.
Rolison has filed court documents accusing defense attorneys of trying to intimidate witnesses by calling them racially derogatory names and encouraging other blacks to make them social outcasts. He has also accused defense attorneys of trying to convince witnesses to call in sick in order to be excused from the trial.
The judge last week denied a defense request to delay the trial until a new jury selection process begins July 1. The new system splits Alabama’s Southern Judicial District in half, with juries for trials in Mobile being selected from a mostly white area and juries for trials in Selma being selected from an area with a large black population.
Delaying the trial could bring more blacks into the jury pool if the jury were chosen at Selma, said defense attorney Deval L. Patrick of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund in New York.