A defense attorney for the final suspect convicted of killing Kantral Brooks and Esther Deneus in their Bradenton home is raising concerns over whether he got a fair trial after a juror’s letter to the judge made claims of racism by her fellow panelists.
On Nov. 9, Jimmie McNear was convicted of second-degree murder with discharging a firearm in Brooks’ death, manslaughter with discharging a firearm and armed burglary. McNear is scheduled to be sentenced at 8:30 a.m. Jan. 3 and is facing up to life in prison.
But on Nov. 20, one of the jurors from McNear’s trial sent a letter to Circuit Judge Diana Moreland, making claims against her fellow jurors, and the defense is requesting permission to interview the juror.
“There is no way any black defendant could ever get a fair trial with racist evil people such as those that I had the unfortunate time sitting with,” the juror wrote to Moreland.
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Defense attorney William Bennett said that McNear is black and the letter “causes concerns over the verdict required by rule, but undersigned counsel believes good cause exists to allow the interview,” in a motion to the court filed on Nov. 28.
Bennett could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
In her letter to the judge, the juror said it was her anger over how she herself was treated as a black woman on the jury that motivated her to speak up. Two of her fellow jurors, including the foreman, were nasty and disrespectful, she said, and and treated her like a “dumb black, that had no opinion or had any sense.”
“After our first day of deliberating, I cried on the way home for having been so badly mistreated,” her letter went on. “I realize that you never know a person, but the thought of ‘everyone deserves a fair trial’ is so lost in this judicial system. Being judged by your peers? How does a black get that chance when the cards are stacked against them?”
In her letter and in an interview with the Bradenton Herald, the juror went on to explain how it was her concerns over McNear getting a fair trial that motivated her to want to serve on the jury, despite having started a new job. She was taken aback by how some of her fellow jurors were ready to convict McNear of two counts of first-degree murder the moment they walked into the deliberation room without any discussion of the evidence. She spoke to the Herald on the condition that her name would not be published.
“This is somebody’s life,” she recalled telling her fellow jurors. “I need to make sure we are doing the right thing.”
Thanks to another woman on the jury, she said, her points were finally heard and considered. She didn’t disagree that McNear was involved or present during the killing — “shame on him,” she told the Herald — but still felt obligated to ensure he received the most accurate verdict within the parameters they were given.
Her biggest concern had been the state’s star witness, Terez Jones, who also initially faced the identical two counts of first-degree murder and one count of armed burglary as did McNear and a third accomplice, Trey Nonnombre. Jones had taken a plea deal by pleading guilty to two counts of second-degree murder and one count of armed burglary and was sentenced to 25 years in prison in exchange for his testimony against his two co-defendants.
“I didn’t totally trust everything that he said, and they put a lot of weight into it,” the juror said of Jones.
The McNear trial was her third time serving on a jury, she told the Herald. In her previous two experiences in Georgia, which included a murder trial, she said was never exposed to anything like the “extreme racism” she saw from Manatee County jurors that she described as “horrific.”
“It’s heartbreaking, but I am just thankful and did the best I could,” she said.