Accused murderer Terrance Irby wasn't around on Jan. 2, 2007, when prosecutors and his attorney began selecting jurors in Skagit County Superior Court in Mount Vernon. Both the state and the defense agreed he didn't have to be there: Prospective jurors were merely to fill out a questionnaire and swear to tell the truth. Questioning would begin the next day. Except, the State Supreme Court ruled today, a judge's e-mail changed the circumstances, violating Irby's constitutional right to be in court when his peers are selected. The panel that was picked, and which later convicted him of aggravated first-degree murder, has now earned him a reversal and a likely new trial.
But after jurors submitted filled-out questionnaires on opening day, the trial judge, John Meyer, sent an e-mail to the prosecuting attorney and Irby's counsel, suggesting certain jurors be removed from the panel, referring to them by their juror number:
I note that 3,23,42 and 59 were excused after one week by the
17 home schools, and 3 weeks is a long time.
77 has a business hardship.
36, 48, 49 and 53 had a parent murdered.
Any thoughts? If we're going to let any go, I'd like to do it today.
Later that day, Irby's attorney and the prosecutors responded by e-mail, agreeing to most of the juror releases.
After his conviction, Irby was determined to be a persistent (third-strike) offender and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Irby appealed. Though his own attorney had participated in the e-mail jury selection, Irby nonetheless argued that the dismissal process violated his right to be present at all critical stages of trial.
The state Court of Appeals agreed, and today the Supreme Court confirmed. "It is
no answer," writes Justice Gerry Alexander for the 5-4 majority, "to say that the 12 jurors who ultimately comprised Irby's jury were unobjectionable. Reasonable and dispassionate minds may look at the same evidence and reach a different result. Therefore, the State cannot show beyond a reasonable doubt that the removal of several potential jurors in Irby's absence had no effect on the verdict."
Irby, currently in prison, will now get a second chance, if prosecutors, presumably, take him to trial again. If so, they are likely to make certain he is at the defense table on day one.