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updated: 6/27/2012 10:26 PM

Prosecutor's racial remarks during trial at issue

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  • Marcus Marshall

      Marcus Marshall

  • Williamson County State's Attorney Charles made a reference to "our white world" during a black suspect's murder trial.

      Williamson County State's Attorney Charles made a reference to "our white world" during a black suspect's murder trial.
    ASSOCIATED PRESS FILE PHOTO

 
Associated Press

A black man serving an 85-year prison sentence on a murder conviction deserves a new trial because of racial remarks that a longtime southern Illinois prosecutor made while summarizing the case for the all-white jury, the inmate's appellate attorney said Wednesday.

Chicago attorney Steve Greenberg said the closing argument from Williamson County State's Attorney Charles Garnati during Marcus Marshall's 2011 trial in Marion injected racially charged language.

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At one point, Garnati said he didn't want to generalize about blacks who make up roughly 4 percent of the overwhelmingly white, 18,000-resident city of Marion.

"There are some very good law-abiding citizens in that community here," Garnati told the panel, as first reported Wednesday by the Chicago Tribune.

Garnati also made reference to "our white world," according to the trial transcript. Later, while describing how he believed blacks carried firearms, he said "in the black community, that is where they keep their handguns ... in their waistbands, ladies and gentlemen, with something covering it."

Calling such comments "disgusting," Greenberg has taken on Marshall's appeal at the request of the inmate's wife and already has filed a notice with the Mount Vernon, Ill.-based 5th District Appellate Court that he'll be challenging Marshall's conviction.

"I agreed to help this person whether they pay me or not because what happened there is so offensive to every notion of fairness and a fair trial. I'm speechless," Greenberg told The Associated Press on Wednesday. "I think the prosecutor and the defense attorneys (during Marshall's trial) are a disgrace to the legal profession."

He said attorneys "have obligations not just to make a good living but to do the right thing, regardless of our living."

Garnati, who is seeking his eighth four-year term as Williamson County's top prosecutor, downplayed the furor over his closing arguments, telling The Associated Press on Wednesday that, "I spoke thousands of words during that trial, and a couple of sentences have been taken out of context."

Noting he has prosecuted 32 murder trials, Garnati dismissed any insinuation that he was racist and said it's not uncommon for attorneys to question later "whether we could have said things more artfully."

Greenberg said he planned to file the appeal after his work as a defense attorney in next month's scheduled trial of Drew Peterson, a former Bolingbrook police sergeant charged with murder in the 2004 drowning death of his third wife. Peterson also is suspected in the 2007 disappearance of his fourth wife, though he has denied involvement in either death.

Marshall's trial attorney, Thomas Mansfield, initially declined to comment Wednesday, insisting "I don't think any attorney should comment about a pending case, but some people don't have the same philosophy I do." But he said later in the day he felt compelled to publicly respond after reading criticisms of him in the Tribune story.

Mansfield said his occasional objections about Garnati's remarks were rejected by the trial judge, and that he resisted subsequent protests for strategic reasons.

"All of my objections were overruled, and at some point you don't want to turn the jury off by objecting too often," he told the AP.

Mansfield said his request for a new trial before Marshall's sentencing also included protestations of what he called Garnati's "improper and prejudicial" closing arguments, but the trial judge also denied that.

Jurors deliberated a little more than two hours before convicting Marshall, 32, last summer in the August 2010 shooting death of LaQuinn Hudson, who also was black, at Hudson's Marion home.

Garnati, during the July 2011 trial's infancy, told jurors Marshall was a "coldblooded, cowardly murderer" who shot an unarmed victim seven times before fleeing to Chicago, where he was arrested three days later. Mansfield countered that his client wasn't the assailant.

The 85-year sentence Marshall got last September was the maximum, and he is serving the term at the Stateville Correctional Center in Joliet.

After the conviction, Mansfield pledged to appeal, insisting the jury's impartiality was compromised because one juror reportedly was followed home by someone on the third day of the trial. Mansfield said then the possible stalking left jurors scared and nervous, and he believed a mistrial should have been declared.

Greenberg told the Tribune he was so troubled by the language in Garnati's closing argument that he wrote to Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Kilbride, saying he felt an "ethical obligation" to bring the matter to the state's highest court. A spokesman for the higher court, Joe Tybor, told the AP that Kilbride never responded because he couldn't, given that Marshall's case may someday appear before that court.

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