NEW YORK Defense lawyers in the criminal trial of Sean "Puffy" Combs and Jamal "Shyne" Barrow accused prosecutor Matthew Bogdanos on Wednesday of illegally challenging potential jurors because they are black or Hispanic.
Bogdanos denied the charge, and Judge Charles Solomon ruled that the prosecutor had challenged the jurors for race-neutral reasons.
"He's batting 100 percent nine out of nine challenges are to nonwhite people," Combs' lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, said. "There is clearly a pattern."
Bogdanos exercised nine peremptory challenges removal of jurors without having to state a cause on Wednesday (January 24) as general questioning of jurors began. Five out of the nine jurors he challenged were black; the others were Hispanic.
Defense lawyers for Combs, Barrow and bodyguard Anthony "Wolf" Jones who had to agree on which jurors to dismiss exercised five preemptory challenges, removing four white jurors and one Asian-American.
Ultimately, four jurors were sworn in to serve on the case. Two of them were black men; the other two were a white man and a white woman.
In an unusual glimpse into a process where motives are usually left unspoken, Bogdanos laid out the reasons for his peremptory challenges as he argued that he did not use race as a factor.
Bogdanos wanted some jurors off the panel, he said, because they work in the medical field and three doctors will be testifying in the case. "One of the crucial issues in this case is physical injury. ... I don't want someone using their [own] expertise to determine if someone is injured."
One challenged juror, Bogdanos said, showed limited comprehension of English, while another had a criminal record in New York and also owned Shyne's debut album.
Another juror he dismissed a young woman who claimed never to have heard of Combs but who smiled warmly at him as she left the courtroom watched TV coverage of the case despite the judge's instructions that she avoid it, Bogdanos said.
Bogdanos also said he didn't want jurors on the panel who were social workers, guidance counselors or rehabilitation counselors, because they tend to "sympathize and empathize" with defendants. Two of the jurors he challenged fell into those categories.
In general, the prosecutor said, he hoped to avoid "jury nullification," a term for jurors acquitting defendants in defiance of the law.
Defense lawyers were unmoved by Bogdanos' explanations.
"It's going to be impossible for Mr. Bogdanos not to come up with a reason," Brafman said.
Jury selection in the case will continue on Thursday and Friday; Solomon said opening arguments are expected on Monday.
Each side in the case is allowed 15 peremptory challenges. The lawyers can also ask the judge to dismiss "for cause" jurors who show clear bias.