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Court upholds ruling on dismissal of potential jurors from 1992 case


The Maryland Court of Appeals turned down yesterday a convicted murderer's request for a new trial, saying that the dismissal of several potential jurors from his case was not racially motivated.

The court, in a unanimous ruling, upheld a decision by Prince George's County Circuit Judge James Magruder Rea, who said county state's attorneys had other valid, race-neutral reasons for dismissing the jurors in the case of Peter Donald Harley.

Harley was charged with murder and related offenses in the 1991 killing of Timothy Kidd, who was shot in the head when a drug buy went awry in the Nalley Road apartment complex of Washington Heights, said Assistant State Attorney General Gary E. Bair.

Upon his conviction in 1992, Harley was sentenced to life imprisonment with no possible parole on the felony murder charge and a concurrent term of 25 years in prison on a handgun charge.

In February 1993, he appealed for a new trial to the Court of Special Appeals, saying prosecutors dismissed four potential jurors from his trial simply because they were black.

His argument was based on a 1986 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that said a juror cannot be disqualified solely on the basis of race, Mr. Bair said. Doing so violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment, the court said in Batson vs. Kentucky.

The Court of Special Appeals sent the case back to the Circuit Court because the trial judge hadn't looked deeply enough at the reasons the potential four black jurors were disqualified, court records show. The judge, upon re-examination, found the prosecutor's reasons for dismissing the potential jurors -- age, marital status, want of another specific juror -- were race-neutral.

Harley then appealed that result to the Court of Special Appeals, but the Court of Appeals -- the state's highest court -- intervened and took the case for itself.

Prosecutors have argued that the four disqualified jurors were dismissed for race-neutral reasons -- two because they were under age 30, which made them less "stable" than other potential jurors, according to court records, and the other two because the state wanted to pick another juror, a police officer, later on the list.

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