CEDAR RAPIDS – A judge will issue a ruling Friday on whether to move the murder trial of a man accused of killing a cab driver last year based on lack of blacks in the jury pool.
Johnathan Mitchell, 33, of Cedar Rapids, was granted a change of venue to Story County earlier this year but his attorney, Tyler Johnston, asked the court last week to consider moving it Polk County or another area that had more diversity. The Story County pool of 57 lacked any blacks.
A mistrial was declared during the second day of jury selection because of a prosecutor’s medical condition.
Johnston also claimed the amount of security at the Story County Courthouse made it seem as if Mitchell was a dangerous person. Some of the prospective jurors commented on it. There were eight deputies posted at the entrance and one of them carried an automatic assault rifle.
Sixth Judicial District Judge Robert Sosalla said last week the security issue could easily be resolved.
Assistant Linn County Attorney Nic Scott, in his resistance to moving the trial to a different county, said the defense hasn’t shown a prejudice exists in the county that would prevent Mitchell from a fair and impartial trial. He said Story County has a more diverse population than Linn County and other counties. Story County has a white population of 89.2 percent and Linn has 91.4 percent, according to the 2010 U.S. Census Bureau.
Scott said according to the census, the black population in individual counties varies- Linn County has 4.1 percent, Story has 2.8 percent, Polk has 6.2 percent and Scott has 7.1 percent.
The defense asked for a mistrial during jury selection because of the lack of blacks, but the judge denied the motion because there was no evidence of a systematic exclusion of race, Scott said. Any issues of race and prejudice can be addressed during jury selection.
Sosalla said he would consider the arguments and make his ruling by Friday.
Mitchell is charged with first-degree murder and first-degree robbery. He is accused of stabbing to death Cathy Stickley, 54, a Century Cab driver, April 29, 2011. According to a criminal complaint, Stickley was found dead by her vehicle in the 1500 block alley between Second and Third avenues SE in Cedar Rapids. Stickley died of multiple stab wounds to her neck and head.