Greene County: Too white for a fair trial?
By JARED STRONG
A 31-year-old man who faces five years in prison for drunk driving has asked a judge to move his trial from Greene County because it’s likely that all of the jurors will be white, according to court records.
Sylvester Lovell Trotter is black, as are the witnesses who are expected to testify in his defense of a felony third-offense operating while intoxicated charge.
A Jefferson police officer arrested the former Carroll man in March at Sparky’s One Stop after someone reported that he was driving erratically. Trotter allegedly stopped the car at the convenience store, and the officer approached and noticed an open can of beer. Trotter was among three people in the car.
Trotter said the vehicle had not been driven erratically and that he had not been driving the vehicle, and he declined to provide a urine sample after the officer said he smelled of alcohol and marijuana.
His trial is set for Aug. 27.
Next week, his attorney is set to argue in court that a judge should toss all evidence in the case because the officer who stopped Trotter had not himself witnessed Trotter driving erratically before he detained him.
The attorney, John Dirks, of Ames, has also requested that the trial be moved to another county because “African-Americans comprise just .3 percent of the population” of Greene County.
“It is unlikely there will be more than one person of color in Mr. Trotter’s jury pool,” Dirks wrote in his June request. “And it will be nearly impossible to achieve any relief if no persons of color are impaneled in his jury.”
Other black defendants have had some success with similar arguments.
Tyrone Washington Jr. — a 41-year-old Northwood man who was eventually convicted of murdering his ex-girlfriend and was sentenced to life in prison — was able to get his trial moved in 2015 from Worth County to Webster, in which minorities represent a larger portion of the population.
Still, his first group of potential jurors in Webster was dismissed because none of the 112 people were black.
Greene County Attorney Thomas Laehn, who is prosecuting Trotter, argues in court documents that Trotter is not entitled to “a jury of his preferred demographic composition.”
“The Iowa Supreme Court has already implicitly rejected the argument that a person of color is legally entitled to a jury containing another person of color,” Laehn wrote.
Otherwise, he wrote, it would be “impracticable” to prosecute nonwhites in most of the state’s counties.
Trotter now lives in Chicago, according to recent court filings.