With his first-degree murder trial scheduled to begin in two weeks, a man accused of killing a Burlington High School student said he cannot receive a fair trial in Henry County because of a lack of minorities in the jury pool.
Curtis Dial, an attorney representing Jorge Sanders-Galvez, filed a motion Wednesday in Des Moines County District Court seeking to have Sanders-Galvez's Oct. 24 trial be moved from Henry County because the list of people he has been given from which he is to select a jury is racially slanted against minority defendants.
Sanders-Galvez, who is both African American and Hispanic, cannot receive a fair trial because jury panels in Henry County are made up of mostly white people, Dial said.
The 23-year-old Sanders-Galvez is charged with first-degree murder in the March 2016 killing of Kedarie Johnson, a gender-fluid 16-year-old, who was found shot to death in an alley behind a residence on South Hill. Sanders-Galvez's trial was moved from Des Moines County to Henry County earlier this year because of pretrial publicity.
However, in his motion, Dial asked District Judge Mary Ann Brown again to transfer the trial to another jurisdiction or grant other necessary relief to ensure his client gets a fair trial.
"The defendant has been provided the jury questionnaires for the upcoming trial," Dial said in his motion. "Of the potential jurors, 103 have returned jury questionnaires. Of these 103, one is Hispanic and one is African American. The latest figures from the United States Census Bureau indicates that Henry County population consists of 2.4 percent Black or African American and 4.7 percent Hispanic."
He said the current jury panel consists of less than 1 percent of both African Americans and Hispanics.
"Simply striking this jury panel and picking a new jury panel (in Henry County) will not solve the problem," he said.
Dial said since 2013, there have been 32 jury panels selected in Henry County.
"Of the 1,967 people who have responded, four have been Hispanic and seven have been African American," he said. "Therefore, in Henry County since 2013, although African Americans make up 2.4 percent of the population, they make up .0003 percent of the jury pool.
"This is even worse for Hispanics, as they make up .0002 percent of the jury pool in Henry County."
Dial asked Brown to change the venue of the trial to a county in which the defendant will receive a fair and impartial jury.
"This can only occur if the jury panels are likely to include African American and Hispanic members which are consistent with the African American and Hispanic populations in the county," he said.
Dial did not suggest to Brown which county in Iowa the trial should be conducted.
Under Iowa law, jury panels are selected by the state court administrator based on the current voter registration list and the current motor vehicle operator’s list and non-operator’s identification list. All three lists are merged into the electronic data processing system to create the source list for jurors in each district court.
Brown did not set a specific date and time for Dial's motion to be heard.
However, Brown did make two other pretrial rulings Wednesday in connection with Sanders-Galvez's trial.
• She approved a request from a U.S. Department of Justice civil rights attorney to assist Des Moines County Attorney Amy Beavers and Laura Roan, an assistant Iowa attorney general, in the prosecution of Sanders-Galvez in Henry County District Court.
• Brown also ruled there is no need to address a request from Dial that Beavers turn over witness testimony from a federal grand jury convened Aug. 16 in Davenport to investigate the possibility of federal indictment being handed up charging Sanders-Galvez with committing a "hate crime" in connection with Johnson's death.
"The court has been advised by counsel (Beavers) the state has voluntarily provided to the defendant transcripts of federal grand jury testimony," she said in her ruling. "As a result, it is not necessary that hearing be held."
Sanders-Galvez, who could face a mandatory sentence of life in prison if convicted of Johnson's murder in state court, remains in the Des Moines County jail in lieu of a $2 million bond.
If he is charged in federal court, he could be facing the death penalty if convicted.