Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County No. 97 CR 11885 Honorable Mary Maxwell Thomas, Judge Presiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Cahill
A jury convicted defendant of first degree murder and two counts of attempted murder. He was sentenced to concurrent sentences of 30 years for murder and two 20-year terms for each attempted murder conviction. Defendant appeals. We affirm.
Defendant argues on appeal that the trial court erred in: (1) sustaining the State's reverse motion under Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79, 90 L. Ed. 2d 69, 106 S. Ct. 1712 (1986), during jury selection; and (2) failing to dismiss a juror who said he would not follow the court's instructions.
Blondella Mitchell was killed on March 28, 1997, when she was shot while sitting on the porch of her home. Witnesses identified defendant as the shooter. Defendant admitted selling heroin on March 28, 1997, but denied involvement in the shooting. Defendant was later convicted of first degree murder and attempted murder and sentenced.
Defendant used five peremptory challenges against white jurors during jury selection. The State made a reverse Batson challenge as to all five. The trial court then asked defense counsel for race-neutral reasons to support the exclusions. The court accepted the tendered reasons as to all but one of the jurors, Irene Brizgys. The trial court found that the reasons for challenging Brizgys were pretextual. The trial court then reinstated Brizgys. Defendant now contends that the trial court improperly found a racial motivation behind the attempted exclusion and that her reinstatement as a juror denied defendant his right to a trial by an impartial jury.
Batson requires a prima facie showing that the use of peremptory challenges is racially motivated. The burden then shifts to the respondent to give a race-neutral explanation for excluding a juror. The trial court then determines whether the exclusions resulted from purposeful discrimination. Batson, 476 U.S. at 96-98, 90 L. Ed. 2d at 87-89, 106 S. Ct. at 1723-24. Where, as here, the trial court omits the first step and asks for race-neutral reasons, the issue of a prima facie showing is moot. Hernandez v. New York, 500 U.S. 352, 359, 114 L. Ed. 2d 395, 405, 111 S. Ct. 1859, 1866 (1991). The trial court's finding on this issue is one of fact and turns on questions of credibility. We will not reverse absent clear error. People v. Munson, 171 Ill. 2d 158, 175, 662 N.E.2d 1265 (1996).
Batson requires proof of purposeful discrimination. Batson, 476 U.S. 79, 90 L. Ed. 2d 69, 106 S. Ct. 1712 (1986). Courts look to the facial validity of the offered explanation. Munson, 171 Ill. 2d at 174. A race-neutral explanation is based on something other than the race of the juror. Munson, 171 Ill. 2d at 174. The reason offered will be deemed race neutral, absent an inherent discriminatory intent. Hernandez, 500 U.S. at 360, 114 L. Ed. 2d at 406, 111 S. Ct. at 1866.
Defendant offered two reasons to exclude Brizgys: (1) earlier service on a civil jury and (2) work as a hospital technician, which made interaction with police more likely. The court did not comment on Brizgys' earlier service on a civil jury but declined to excuse the juror based on her employment. Defendant claims that the trial court's refusal to accept Brizgys' employment history as race neutral is manifestly erroneous because the court's ruling is based on a factual error and overlooks that concern with a juror's employment is a valid race-neutral reason. The trial court did not comment on Brizgys' earlier jury service. Defendant did not seek a ruling on this reason. The issue is not raised in this appeal and need not be addressed.
We agree that a juror's employment may be a valid race-neutral reason. But the trial court's finding that concern about Brizgys' employment was pretextual is supported by the record. The record shows that defendant suggested that Brizgys' employment, coupled with her statement during voir dire that police testimony would affect her ability to be fair, made her an undesirable juror. The record shows that Brizgys did not state she could not fairly evaluate police testimony as defendant claims:
"THE COURT: And if policemen testify, would that affect your ability to be fair?