Unreasonable Doubts

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"He didn't say five words to me the whole time I represented him; I had to prepare a defense without him," Perez says, adding that his only option was to rely on two relatives to soften the killer's image.

"David's been a follower. He's always been real passive," his aunt Kelly Larez told the court. There was the absence of a father "to give him the authority he needed."

His mother, Martha Larez, said several youths her son has known since his pre-teen years held more sway with him than she did. "I think they should be going down with David," Larez told the judge, who asked whether Ramirez had ever held a full-time job. He had not.

The two women's faces were visibly drawn and deeply pained when Creuzot handed down a sentence of life in prison.

Around the Dallas courthouse, more than a few attorneys say that the increase in hung juries has come along with a jury pool that contains a far broader cross-section of the community than it did just five years ago.

"It's happening more now, because a couple of years ago, these jurors either wouldn't be called in, or they wouldn't be picked," says Banner, who handles primarily drug cases.

"There's a definite change in Dallas juries," says defense attorney Brook Busby. "We have a far broader jury pool, and from that broader base you end up with a broader spectrum and more people from the fringe."

The most marked change took place in 1992, Busby says, when changes in Texas law began requiring state courts to draw jurors from drivers' license records, adding to the traditional pool of registered voters. The drivers' license lists added more poor, more minority, and more young jurors. "The drivers' license jurors don't tend to be prosecution jurors," says Moffitt. "They don't identify as much with the system."

Furthermore, several key U.S. Supreme Court decisions in the mid-1980s curbed prosecutors' leeway to exclude jurors on the basis of race. Until the so-called Batson decision in 1986, assistant district attorneys in Dallas and elsewhere were trained to strike minorities in the belief that they were increasing their chances of gaining a conviction.

Perez, who said he's been getting hung juries in about 25 percent of his cases lately, says having more jurors from the same background as his clients makes the state work harder to prove its case. "I don't think they necessarily come to acquit," he says. "They just want to see prosecutors meet their burden of proof. They just don't vote 'guilty' because the police say they're guilty."

Creuzot, who was first elected to the bench in 1992, says he's had other hung juries this year "where I thought we should have reached verdicts." But he says so many factors can come into play in jurors' minds, it is impossible to pin down any one aspect of their background, including race.

In this instance, he says, "The state tried the case better the second time."

Moffitt and Dodd took considerable pains the second time to hammer prospective jurors with questions aimed to bring out biases against police and the system.

But they say they asked the right questions of the first jury, too. Says Moffitt, "I don't know what you can do when jurors aren't being truthful and aren't playing by the rules.

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Thomas Korosec
Contact: Thomas Korosec

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