By Crescenzo Vellucci
Vanguard Sacramento Bureau
SACRAMENTO – The trial-in-chief of white supremacist William Planer is set to begin late Thursday morning after two days of jury selection yielded the requisite 12 jurors and two alternates amid some sturdy debate about politics in questioning of the jurors. It was not an easy time getting the final jury.
Planer is a member of the Traditional Workers Party (TWP), and is accused of felony assault of counter protestors who confronted him and other TWP members and white supremacists at the State Capitol in June of 2016. Seven of the counter protestors were seriously injured and hospitalized, and many others injured after TWP members used knives, sticks and broken bottles and spears to attack them. Several TWP members were also injured.
It took parts of two panels of jurors (about 120 potential jurors) to get the jury of six men and six women, and two alternates – only three are people of color and the rest appear to be White. Despite claims that politics won’t be part of this trial, it no doubt made some decision in the choice of jurors in a case involving an avowed white supremacists and Nazi sympathizer.
Deputy District Attorney Paris Coleman insisted his office did not “want this this trial to come off the rails,” and would pursue the case cleanly. The defense team agreed, and indicated it was going to avoid political aspects of Planer’s defense.
Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Stacy Boulware Eurie strongly and sternly warned all counsel not to use “inflammatory” terms, and stated “we’re not here to litigate these (opposing) groups,” adding “I’m going to let this play out in real time, because trials are fluid. But we are not going to try this as the riot of the day.”
However, despite plans to “sanitize” the politics of the trial, it was defense co-counsel Matt Martinez who early on in jury questioning introduced the controversy directly to jurors, asking them point blank: “Would it be a problem for you that the defendant is a member a group that has racist views?”
Several potential jurors immediately raised their hands and were excused. Nearly a dozen or more others were excused by the judge over the last few days because they believed they couldn’t put the fact that TWP is an admitted white supremacist group aside and judge Planer fairly.
“No, I just can’t do it,” was the common comment from potential jurors when asked if they could forget that Planer was a white supremacist.
Martinez made a concerted effort to ferret out people he believed would give his client a fair trial, reminding jurors that everyone deserves a fair trial and repeating stories about the second President of the U.S., John Adams, who successfully defended British troops of murder of colonialists at the Boston Massacre. Unpopular clients, but Adams believed they had a right to a fair trial, said Martinez.
Surprisingly, only a very few jurors on the panels had even heard of the riot at the Capitol – though it did happen nearly three years ago. Planer has been in jail on high bail for well more than a year and a half.
But potential jurors – all excused – were direct about why they could not sit on the jury. One stated that “I have formed an opinion…I can’t do this.” At one point five or six potential jurors Wednesday made similar statements – one after the other – and were sent packing.
Other potential jurors – the ones that are now seated – insisted they could sit in judgement of Planer even though they disagree with his politics because they believe everyone deserves a fair trial. As one juror said, “As a veteran I took an oath to uphold and preserve our rights….I can do that now.”
The prosecution asked questions of jurors to see if they would hold it against a witness if they didn’t seem to want to be there – suggesting witnesses may be have been subpoenaed about their experience at the Capitol fracas and are appearing against their will.
Before jury selection, the defense tried to get the judge to recuse herself, filing a motion to remove her from the case because she’s also hearing a preliminary trial of anti-fascists are assaulting members of TWP.
The defense team insisted that because Judge Eurie is presiding over a preliminary trial of three anti-fascists also being charged with assault in the 2016 Capitol clash, she may have some “personal knowledge” that could “disadvantage” Planer.
Eurie rejected the notion, noting that “I do not have personal knowledge…jurors will serve as arbiter in this case (not me).”