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By The Skanner News | The Skanner News
Published: 20 October 2011

Houston County Courthouse in
Dothan, Ala.

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) -- An advocacy group sued a district attorney for two Alabama counties on Wednesday, saying he and his assistants deliberately exclude blacks from juries in serious criminal cases.

The federal lawsuit filed by the Montgomery-based Equal Justice Initiative says Houston and Henry counties in southeast Alabama use challenges during the jury selection process to exclude blacks from some panels. The move violates the defendants' right to a fair trial, the lawsuit said.

Blacks make up 29 percent of the population in Henry County and 23 percent in Houston County, but the lawsuit said only 5 percent of the jurors were black for cases where the death penalty was imposed from 2006 to 2010. Equal Justice Initiative director Bryan Stevenson said excluding blacks from juries damages the criminal justice system.

Stevenson accused prosecutors in the two counties of being suspicious of black jurors.

The lawsuit contends that some of the reasons given for excluding potential black jurors have included that they were too old, too young, wore eyeglasses and were single or married.

Doug Valeska, who serves as district attorney for both counties, could not immediately be reached for comment.

The lawsuit asks that prosecutors in the two counties be required to maintain records for five years showing the racial makeup of the jury pool in serious criminal cases, the race of individuals eliminated from juries and the reasons for the challenges.

The lawsuit also asks that a monitor be appointed to observe the jury selection process in the county for four years.

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