The New Jersey Religious and Cultural Ministries
P.O. Box 3254
Teaneck, NJ 07666
201-441-4159 or 718-596-1991
Rev. Dr. Herbert Daughtry, National Minister
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 13, 1991
CRITICISM OF GARY SPATH TRIAL
It is difficult to understand the rules and regulations implemented by the judges and attorneys and the decorum of some of the security personnel in the Gary Spath Trial. Prior to jury selection, there was a different climate. There were less restrictions, the court personnel were relaxed and courteous. Peace and order prevailed.
Once jury selection commenced, a radical transformation occurred, both in rules and regulations and in the demeanor of Court personnel. They became tense, rude, and disrespectful of both the community and press.
Four decisions by the Court and attorneys – you are never quite sure who is making the rules – were protested by the Pannell Family and the community.
Size of Courtroom – the 70-odd seats
Over 50 were taken by prospective jurors.
Exclusion of the community from the Courtroom.
Only six family members were permitted inside.
This was controlled by issuing six passes to the family, the composition determined by prosecutors. Initially, we were told that it was the judge’s decision. We later learned that it was the prosecutor’s decision. The family and community tried to negotiate to allow the family to determine who would be given passes. And since there were only five family members, just allowing the family to choose whom it would give the extra one pass to. This was rejected. It became clear that they did not want members of the African American community present. We were not able to ascertain if the same rules applied to Spath. There was a priest in his delegation. We were told that the priest was a member of the Spath Family. We were also told that defense attorneys had no rigid rules regarding the composition of the Spath Family.
The Courtroom Seating Arrangement
The Pannell and Spath Families were intermingled on the first row. The Pannell Family was told if they didn’t like that, they could sit behind the Spath Family. After the Family and community threatened not to proceed under these arrangements, a decision was made to change the seating arrangements, putting the families in different sections of the Courtroom.
After the jury selection had ended, and the community was allowed in the Courtroom, the oddities continued, and in some instances, intensified. Court personnel became even more rude and, at times, hostile.
I want to criticize:
The Courtroom size and structure, which included columns.
Its semi-circular shape prevents panoramic views. Negotiation occurred in the judge's chambers to rearrange seating. The Pannell Family elected to remain in seats they occupied rather than move to seats on the side of the yellow tape on them. jury, which would prevent their view of the jury.
Once again, the insensitivity of the Court was manifested in the seating of the families. In the middle section, there are nine seats per row. Each family was given three seats on the first and second rows, and separated by three seats with yellow tape on them.
In the Pannell section, the five members of the Pannell Family left one seat vacant. At the request of the Family, I sought to sit there. I was told I couldn’t sit there. I have never heard of a trial where the family’s minister couldn’t sit with the family.
Rules and Regulations Inside Court.
Once the judge was seated, no one would be allowed in the Courtroom. Once in the Courtroom, under no circumstances would one be allowed to depart and return. Originally, we were told that even during a recess, we couldn’t leave and return, even if one returned before the judge was seated. After discussion with a police captain, we were told that we could come out of the Courtroom during recess. But we would have to get on line, and be back in Court before the judge was seated.
Then as I entered the Courtroom, my notebook was taken and I was informed “no note taking”. I ripped a couple of sheets from the 8.5x11 notebook. Sitting in the Court before the proceedings started, I folded the paper in four parts, and began making “To Do” notes for myself. Immediately, a security officer came over and told me in a stern voice, “No Note Taking”, and remained close by to ensure I obeyed the rules.
The silly, provocative, paranoid conduct of the Court and security personnel is contributing significantly to the distrust already prevalent in the African-American community. How else can one explain the Court’s rules and regulations and personnel’s decorum to a community already suspicious, except that they are hiding something, or that they are up to no good.
One would have thought that, given the tension, confusion, and suspicion that abounds, the Court would have tried to do all that it could to have the public attend the trial, and would have accorded the public courtesy and accessibility.
One word more concerning the all white jury. The African-American community would have felt more hopeful had there been an African-American on the jury. But our experience has taught us that one or two Blacks on a jury doesn’t ensure that a jury will return a just decision. We know there are fair-minded white people in the world. We hope that twelve of them are on this jury.
However, we are concerned that two members of the jury have relatives there and are on the police force. And we do wonder why the prosecutor did not exercise his peremptory challenges to exclude them; he only used nine of the twelve allotted to him.