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Court reverses murder conviction over prosecutor's use of the race card
The Washington State Supreme Court reversed a Federal Way man’s murder conviction in a 2006 shooting in Seattle’s Pioneer Square because they say the prosecutor who tried the case cast doubt on the credibility of witnesses “based on their race.”
The court, in an 8-1 ruling Thursday, found that King County deputy prosecutor James Konat engaged in “prosecutorial misconduct” and that the trial of Kevin L. Monday Jr. was “fatally tainted.” Monday, who is black and a purported gang member, was convicted in 2007 of first-degree murder and first-degree assault. Monday was sentenced to 64 years on prison after Francisco Green was shot and killed and two other men were wounded in April 2006.
During the monthlong trial in King County Superior Court, Konat injected racial prejudice by asserting that black witnesses are unreliable and using derogatory language toward a black witness, saying that “black folk don’t testify against black folk,” the Supreme Court said.
Konat also repeatedly invoked the alleged African American, anti-snitch code to discount the credibility of witnesses. While witnesses denied the presence of a code, Konat told jurors during closing arguments that “the code is black folk don’t testify against black folk. You don’t snitch to the police,” according to the Supreme Court decision.
Konat also referred to the “police” as “po-leese” several times to subtly, and likely deliberately, call to the jury’s attention that the witness was African American, the court said.
“It is deeply troubling that an experienced prosecutor who, by his own account, had been a prosecutor for 18 years would resort to such tactics,” the Supreme Court wrote. “This conduct was highly improper. It planted the seed in the jury’s mind that most of the witnesses were, at best, shading the truth to benefit (Monday).”
Monday appealed the conviction on numerous grounds following the first trial, including that the prosecutor “made a blatant and inappropriate appeal to racial prejudice and undermined the credibility of African American witnesses based on their race.”
The Court of Appeals affirmed Monday’s conviction and sentence, but said the prosecutor made a “blatant appeal to racial prejudice that any error was harmless.”
The Supreme Court ruled that Konat’s comments and actions during the trial were grounds for the murder conviction to be overturned.
“Regardless of the evidence of this defendant’s guilt, the injection of insidious discrimination into this case is so repugnant to the core principles of integrity and justness which a fundamentally fair criminal justice system must rest that only a new trial will remove its taint,” wrote Supreme Court Chief Justice Barbara A. Madsen.
Justice James M. Johnson, the lone dissenter, said that even if Konat’s comments “arguably tainted the jury’s impressions,” the murder case still was proved beyond a reasonable doubt.
“The videotape of Monday repeatedly shooting Mr. Green...proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Monday deliberately took Green’s life,” Johnson wrote. “Even if the prosecutor’s comments arguably tainted the jury’s impressions of some witnesses, this could not affect the jury’s perception of the videotape and other evidence. Sadly, the victim’s family is sentenced to relive his murder at another trial.”
King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg released a statement Thursday following the Supreme Court opinion.
“Generalizations based on race are always untrue, highly offensive, and have no place in the courtroom,” he wrote. “(Konat) deeply regrets his remarks that the Supreme Court has found to constitute reversible error. He has been told, in no uncertain terms, that those arguments are unacceptable.”
Satterberg said his office will retry the case and he will assign a different deputy prosecutor than Konat and “focus on the evidence.”
According to court documents regarding the case, a street musician was playing drums in Pioneer Square and had mounted a digital camera on his equipment. The camera captured a confrontation between several men.
Following the fight, Seattle police said that Monday, a purported gang member from Federal Way, fired at least 10 shots at Francisco Green while he stood on a street corner. Green died from the shots. Monday was also accused of firing shots at a vehicle and wounding the driver and passenger.
After being detained by police, Monday began to cry and said that “I wasn’t trying to kill that man, I didn’t mean to take his life.”