The presence of a resident alien on the jury that convicted a 33-year-old Columbia man of murder last month is not grounds for setting aside the verdict and ordering a new trial, a Howard County Circuit judge ruled yesterday.
Although U.S. citizenship is a requirement of jury service under Maryland law, lawyers for Marcus D. Owens never challenged the juror's qualifications to serve on the panel during the selection process and therefore gave up the right to object later, Judge Diane O. Leasure wrote in a 11-page opinion released yesterday.
Without evidence of bias or other wrongdoing, the "mere presence and participation" of juror Adeyemi Alade, a resident alien from Nigeria, is not enough to invalidate the verdict, the judge wrote, noting a Supreme Court case that dates to the late 19th century, a Maryland appellate decision and cases from other states.
"There was no evidence presented in the case ... to suggest that the presence of Mr. Alade on the jury in any way denied the defendant a fair and impartial trial or violated his due process rights," Leasure wrote.
The decision, which echoed arguments made by Senior Assistant State's Attorney Mary Murphy in legal filings and during a hearing Friday, pleased prosecutors and brought some relief to the family of the case's young victim, Kevonte Davis.
Owens, the boy's stepfather, was convicted June 10 of second-degree murder, child abuse and assault in the beating of the 2-year-old. Owens is scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 1.
"I'm just glad that we don't have to go through it all over again," said Kenesha Davis, 22, Kevonte's mother.
Louis P. Willemin, Owens' public defender who argued that the citizenship requirement "takes on a different significance" because of the loyalty it implies to the United States and its institutions, said he was disappointed by the ruling.
But while Willemin remained noncommittal on whether the issue would be appealed, saying the decision was up to his office's appellate division, one legal expert said the case is likely far from over.
The citizenship question raised in the Owens case is a "key issue" ripe for appellate review in Maryland, said Abraham A. Dash, a University of Maryland School of Law professor. "No doubt the Maryland Court of Appeals will take the case and resolve the issue," he said.
Dash said the judge's use of a U.S. Supreme Court case as precedent is "persuasive."
Byron L. Warnken, a University of Baltimore School of Law professor, said the judge "came to the correct result."