Two members of the jury panel in the murder retrial of Stanley Liggins were absent Tuesday from the courtroom in the Black Hawk County Courthouse in Waterloo, Iowa, where attorneys for Liggins rested their case.
Both of those missing are African-American. Liggins, who is African-American, is charged with the murder of Jennifer Lewis, who was nine years old when her charred remains were found in a field near Jefferson Elementary School in Davenport on Sept. 17, 1990. Lewis was white.
The current trial is Liggins' third, after two previous trials resulted in convictions that were eventually overturned by state courts.
Both the 1993 and 1995 trials of Liggins featured all-white juries. The current trial's 15-member panel of 12 jurors and three alternates had included three African-Americans until Tuesday's proceedings. The court does not announce which of the 15 members serve on the 12-person jury, but a source close to jury selection told WVIK that all three of the African-American members were designated as jurors.
Judge Marlita Greve offered no explanation why the two panelists—a man and a woman—may have been dismissed from the proceedings.
Dismissals of African-American jurors would be a setback to Liggins and his attorneys, who are arguing in a case that has long had racial undertones. A previous jury included a white man from South Africa who would later make comments of white supremacy.
The prosecution is enduring a setback of its own: Judge Greve last week denied Scott County Attorney Michael Walton's motion to inform the jury of Liggins' previous conviction of sexual abuse. A Rock Island County jury in 1991 found Liggins guilty of aggravated criminal sexual abuse of a Milan girl who, like Lewis, was nine years old. The incident occurred one month before the death of Lewis, whose body was found to have been sexually abused the night of the killing.
After Walton argued Thursday for permission to inform the jury of this conviction, Judge Greve considered the motion for about two hours before ruling the information to be prejudicial. She said the jury might feel compelled to convict Liggins in the murder retrial solely on the basis of his past conviction of sexual abuse.
Closing arguments are scheduled for Wednesday. Jurors will then begin deliberations.