A jury of eight women and four men -- none of them African-Americans -- has been selected in the trial of Jonathan Parker, who is charged with the murder of a Buffalo police officer last year and could face the death penalty if convicted.
Parker, 20, of Titus Avenue, who is black, is accused of killing Officer Charles "Skip" McDougald and wounding Detective Michael Martinez during a confrontation on Northampton Street on April 9, 1997.
One African-American woman is among the five female and four male alternate jurors who also were sworn in.
Opening arguments are set to begin Sept. 9 in what will be the first death-penalty case in Buffalo in almost 40 years. The trial is expected to last six weeks.
A key factor in the jury-selection process was that jurors had to state that they would be willing to consider both the death penalty and life in prison without parole if they vote to convict Parker.
Court sources familiar with Thursday's jury selection proceedings said prosecutors routinely opted to have prospective African-American jurors dropped from the jury pool because they said they opposed the death penalty.
Erie County Judge Michael L. D'Amico, prosecutors and Parker's attorneys, James P. Harrington and John V. Elmore, all declined to comment on the jury-selection process, which began July 6 with 808 prospective jurors.
Thursday, 91 men and women, about 10 percent of them African-American, were called back to court for the first votes by the rival attorneys on the jury itself.
Parker's attorneys rejected a black Buffalo firefighter from the jury with one of their challenges, according to court sources. They did not have to give a reason for excluding him.
African-Americans rejected Thursday included a teacher, a male nurse, a former Marine, a Thruway toll taker and an employee of the Buffalo Board of Education.
D'Amico agreed that the prosecutors rejected the prospective African-American jurors for what he called "race-neutral reasons," meaning that their concern was the individual's opposition to the death penalty.
Throughout the jury-selection process, defense attorneys complained about the racial makeup of the jury pool.
"For the defense, it's troubling, but it's doubtful that it's going to be trouble," observed University at Buffalo law professor Charles E. Carr. "They'd have to show a pattern of deliberate discrimination against an identifiable group."
Carr said Thursday that willingness to impose the death penalty "has traditionally been a sticking point" in jury selection for capital-punishment cases. Opposing it, he noted, "is tantamount to saying they couldn't follow the legal instructions from the judge."
Opening arguments in the trial -- which will include a penalty phase should Parker be convicted -- were pushed back a day to allow one of the female jurors to complete a previously scheduled West Coast vacation, court sources said.
McDougald, 36, the father of four, was the first Buffalo police officer killed in the line of duty in more than 27 years.
McDougald and Martinez, then a patrol officer, were shot after they allegedly ordered Parker to stop for questioning on Northampton. The two officers had previously arrested Parker.
Parker has been serving a 15-year prison term on unrelated gun charges since shortly after the fatal shooting.
News Staff Reporter Dale Anderson also contributed to this report.