Kansas City, Mo. Prosecutors improperly excluded a black potential juror from a man's murder trial, an appeals panel narrowly ruled Tuesday in overturning his conviction and ordering a new trial.
The Missouri Court of Appeals' Western District was split 6-5, with dissenters, including the panel's chief judge, saying the prosecutors were within their rights.
It will be the fourth trial for Lance W. Livingston, whose first two trials in Jackson County Circuit Court ended in hung juries.
At Livingston's third trial, in July 2004, jurors convicted him of first-degree murder and armed criminal action in the January 2003 death of Joshua Ivers. He was sentenced to life without parole for the murder conviction.
Ivers was shot in the parking lot of a bowling alley in the Kansas City suburb of Raytown.
The shooting occurred on a Sunday night, when the bowling alley allowed people to bowl as many games as they wanted for one price.
The black woman was excluded from the jury after saying she had bowled in a league at that alley and that she had bowled there on Sunday nights. Prosecutors said they were worried she might hear testimony that conflicted with what she knew about Sunday nights at the bowling alley.
However, Livingston's attorney argued successfully that the juror was improperly excluded. Defense attorneys noted she had bowled on Sunday nights in the mid-1990s and was not familiar with "all you can bowl" nights. They also said that white jurors who had bowled at the alley were not automatically excluded.
In the majority opinion, Judge Ronald R. Holliger wrote that the state's race-neutral explanation for the black juror's exclusion was a pretext for a racially motivated decision, especially in a case with a white victim and a black defendant.
The jury ended up including one black member, although prosecutors tried to have all four black potential jurors excluded.
"The right of a party to peremptorily strike a juror must always give way to a right of citizen to participate in our judicial system without regard to race, gender or national origin," Holliger wrote.
In his dissent, Chief Judge Victor C. Howard noted that the trial judge, who could have ruled otherwise, allowed the juror to be struck without comment.
"Far from exposing a detached and misled trial court, the transcript reflects one that is knowledgeable and engaged," Howard wrote. "With a considerable degree of detail, the trial court cited and explained relevant case law and applied that law to the facts of the case."
Jackson County Prosecutor Jim Kanatzar said he was disappointed by the ruling and that the state might appeal it.
"We have been informed by the Missouri attorney general's office that their office plans to review this case for the possibility of seeking transfer of the ruling to the Missouri Supreme Court," Kanatzar said in a written statement.