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Conviction in '93 liquor store robbery slaying overturned

A 9th Circuit panel says the defendant's rights were violated when the judge dismissed the only juror holding out against her conviction.

May 24, 2011|By Carol J. Williams, Los Angeles Times
  • Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote the opinion.
Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote the opinion. (Los Angeles Times )

A woman serving life without parole for her part in the 1993 slaying of a Long Beach liquor store cashier had her conviction thrown out Monday by a federal appeals court that said her rights were violated when the trial judge removed the lone juror holding out against her conviction.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Richard R. Romero violated Tara Williams' 6th Amendment right to a fair trial when he pulled Juror No. 6 from the panel two days into deliberations without good cause, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said.

Romero cited the juror's "bias" as grounds for replacing him with an alternate, who sided with the other 11 jurors the next day in convicting Williams of first-degree murder with special circumstances.

Williams, then 20, was accused of having driven two friends, at least one of whom she knew to be armed, to the liquor store where the cashier was shot to death during a robbery.

The three-judge appeals panel dissected the transcript of Romero's questioning of all 12 jurors, none of whom reported any misconduct by Juror No. 6. The other jurors only said he wasn't convinced that Williams' guilt had been proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

"No one, including the judge, is even supposed to be aware of the views of individual jurors during deliberations," the judges ruled. The appeals panel concluded that Romero removed the holdout juror during the 1999 trial to avert a hung jury.

Romero declined to comment on the appeals court ruling.

Prosecutors could retry Williams after the state attorney general's office decides whether to seek rehearing of the case by the 9th Circuit or to petition the U.S. Supreme Court for review, said Los Angeles County district attorney spokeswoman Shiara Davila.

Jim Tritt, the court-appointed lawyer who wrote Williams' habeas corpus petition, pointed out that the actual shooter in the robbery and murder 18 years ago only served about three years, while Williams has been in prison since her conviction.

The appeals court ruling was written by Judge Stephen Reinhardt, named to the court by President Carter, and joined by both Republican appointees on the panel.

carol.williams@latimes.com

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