Sizzler jury selection upheld by judge

August 05, 1993|By Robert A. Erlandson | Robert A. Erlandson,Staff Writer

Judge Joseph F. Murphy Jr. rejected a defense argument yesterday that jury selection in the Sizzler Restaurant murder case was discriminatory because a prosecutor challenged several black prospective jurors.

The final 12-member panel chosen to hear the case against Robert Lee Berry, 26, has three black women jurors; another black woman is among the three alternates.

Mr. Berry is on trial in Baltimore County Circuit Court charged with killing John D. Tillman, 29, during a Dec. 26 robbery at the Sizzler Restaurant, in the 10000 block of York Road, Cockeysville. Mr. Tillman worked at the restaurant. The state is seeking the death penalty for Mr. Berry.

Three other men already have been convicted or pleaded guilty in the case and are awaiting sentence.

Joseph Niland, an assistant public defender representing Mr. Berry, who is black, argued that the selection was discriminatory because the state excused the black jurors, in particular a 29-year-old woman because she is a "student."

Judge Murphy noted that 11 of 87 prospective jurors were black and that five of them were among the first 12 people seated.

Jason G. League, assistant state's attorney, excused two of them. Mr. Niland challenged 19 prospective jurors, all of them white.

Judge Murphy said he watched the process carefully and, because of the number of black jurors, ruled that Mr. Niland had not made a case for his complaint of discrimination.

Mr. Niland said he accepted the jury, subject to his complaint. "In my view, case law is that discrimination exists if one single minority juror is wrongfully excluded."

Mr. League said he excused the 29-year-old woman because he assumed she is a student when she listed no other occupation. Mr. League said he also excused a white student.

The actual trial will begin today with opening statements by the prosecuting and defense lawyers, after which the first state's witnesses will testify.

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