Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Technicality gives baby killer shot at freedom

The system failed Trey Crawford during the five months he spent on his earth.
Now it appears it is failing him even after his death.
Twice during his brief life, Trey had to be taken to the emergency room, once for bruising, and another time for a fractured skull. Finally, his father, Justin Sardeson, the man who should have been protecting him, rolled over on the baby, suffocating him. News accounts of Sardeson's trial indicated the earlier incidents were never investigated...until after Trey Crawford was dead.
Webster County Prosecuting Attorney Cynthia Black charged Sardeson with first degree murder. The trial was held in March 2004 in Dallas County on a change of venue. The jury found Sardeson guilty of the lesser crime of second degree murder and he was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
At the time of Sardeson's conviction, Ms. Black wrote, "As a result of Trey's death, I challenge all agencies to educate and train their people about protecting children. It is not enough to look back and say Trey Crawford fell through the cracks. We must take action."
Unfortunately, the most recent action in the case was taken today by the Missouri Southern District Court of Appeals which tossed out Sardeson's conviction and sent the case back to Dallas County for a new trial...because prospective jurors were seated according to age instead of at random.
In its opinion, the appellate panel said its job was to determine whether that "jury selection process was a substantial failure to comply" with the law.
"We find that it was and are forced to reverse and remand for a new trial."
The circuit clerk's error in seating the jury was not discovered until after the trial, according to the opinion, even though Ms. Black had told the judge it appeared the prospective jurors were seated according to age.
"The clerk assured the trial court that the jury panel was not seated by age, that it was indeed a random selection. Admirably, the prosecuting attorney pressed the issue a second time because she was 'afraid that the court of appeals is going to look at this and say any idiot would have seen that they were seated from oldest to youngest" prior to trial, but was again assured that the jury panel was randomly seated." So the trial started. The defense attorney did not know until after the trial when it was discovered that the jury panel was indeed seated by age, thanks to the computerized list used by the circuit clerk.
The lawyers had already exercised their challenges to potential jurors well before the pool got anywhere near jurors who were close to Sardeson's 22 years. The jury panel that was seated ranged from 44 to 72 years old, according to the opinion.
"Such a practice defeats the very purpose of the jury selection process," the opinion said. "A system has been established by statute that provides, insofar as is practical, for a random selection of jurors from a cross-section of the community and from various locations in the county."

No comments: