Diapolis Smith, an African American convicted of killing a man in a barroom brawl in 1991, was expecting to be released from prison soon – or at least to get another trial, as an appellate court had ordered. But he learned on Wednesday that the U.S. Supreme Court would hear an appeal from the state, which is fighting to have that decision overturned.
At issue is the racial makeup of the jury pool in Kent County, Mich., where Smith was tried. Smith’s attorneys contend that African Americans were systematically excluded from consideration. That only three of the 100 potential jurors were Black – none were among the final 37 people from which the jury of his “peers” was culled – was a violation of Smith’s constitutional rights, the lawyers argue. At the time, the county regularly dismissed potential jurors for such reasons as lack of child care, a work conflict or having no transportation, all of which affect African Americans at a higher rate than Whites, The Grand Rapids Press reports. “Blacks in Grand Rapids were being diverted to jury duty in a city court, which took them off the rolls for circuit court trials for a year,” Nate Reens reports.
Both the county and state contend that justice was served when Smith was convicted. The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to hear an appeal from the state is a serious blow to Smith.
"The reality is I'd rather retry the facts of the case and not the numerous legal issues that surround it," James Lawrence, Smith's attorney, told Reens. "I still believe we have the better side on the juror representation and the facts. It's an unfortunate reality that we'll have to proceed."
Besides, says Lawrence, Smith lived in Battle Creek at the time and was not the man who shot to death Christopher Rumbley. Only two of more than three dozen witnesses identified Smith as the shooter. Witnesses said they saw Smith shoot Rumbley from about four feet away, conflicting with the assessment by Kent County Medical Examiner Dr. Stephen Cohle, who testified in court that the shot came from across the room and could not have been fired from close range, according to the Grand Rapids Press.
The high court is scheduled to hear arguments in January or February, the newspaper reports.