The Clarion-Ledger, 3/26/9

Although barely mentioned in the first trial, race has emerged as a big issue in the upcoming retrial of Mayor Frank Melton.

Melton’s attorney, John Reeves, has complained that plans to pull a jury from the Gulf Coast excludes too many potential African-American jurors. And in a filing Wednesday, he accused prosecutors of trying to sway jurors with race- and class-based questions in a jury questionnaire.

Reeves objected to 10 of the prosecution’s proposed 41 questions for potential jurors on the basis they “are designed to, and in fact do, convey an intended point in the guise of a question.”

In the filing, Reeves said prosecutors are attempting to convince potential jurors they should be sympathetic to Melton’s alleged victims because they are African Americans and poor.

Melton, 60, and former police bodyguard Michael Recio, 39, are slated to be tried May 11 for a second time on federal civil rights violations related to their role in an Aug. 26, 2006, warrantless raid on a Ridgeway Street duplex. The first trial ended last month in a mistrial when jurors were unable to reach a verdict.