Judge Declines Recusing Himself in Trial of Little Rock Cop Charged With Manslaughter

cop on trialLittle Rock Police DepartmentOfficer Josh Hastings of the Little Rock, Arkansas police department was charged with manslaughter for the shooting last August of 15-year-old Bobby Moore after police confronted Moore and two other teenagers alleged to be stealing cars. Hastings originally said the teens were driving a car toward him, and that he feared for his life when he shot and killed Moore.

The manslaughter charges came after internal affairs found that Hastings’ account of the speed and direction of the car didn’t match the evidence. Hastings went to trial earlier this year, but a hung jury led to a mistrial. The judge in the case, Wendell Griffin, is also presiding over the retrial, and this week rejected a defense motion that he recuse himself from the trial because, the defense argued, he was anti-police. From the Arkansas Times:

[Judge Griffin] will not recuse from the case. He said defense lawyers had offered no "facts" that he wouldn't apply the law impartially. He said his writings and comments were protected by the Constitution but had not constituted any improper comment on the pending case. He said he had no antipathy toward police, as the defense suggested and disputed the argument that he'd injected the appearance of bias for his remarks about racial issues in jury selection in this case and the lack of racial sensitivity in the Trayvon Martin case.

He disputed both the defense and state objections of his decision to take over jury questioning. He said the lawyers would be able to question jurors through questions submitted to him. He said the rules did not prevent this procedure, which is used in federal courts and other states and, he said, is fully within his discretion.

Griffin was concerned about bias in the selection of the previous jury, which was all-white, and has said he would pick members of the new jury even over objections from either prosecutors or defense attorneys.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Hugh Akston||

    He disputed both the defense and state objections of his decision to take over jury questioning. He said the lawyers would be able to question jurors through questions submitted to him.
    Griffin was concerned about bias in the selection of the previous jury, which was all-white, and has said he would pick members of the new jury even over objections from either prosecutors or defense attorneys.

    Uhhhh...awesome?

  • WTF||

    It seems like the judge is trying to ensure a conviction, which I normally would call foul on, but it's hard to be sympathetic to a murdering cop.

  • Paul.||

    Let's hope there aren't any cop-fellating jury nullifiers.

  • Swiss Servator - past LTC(ret)||

    Uhhhh....automatic record for the appeal, should he be convicted.

  • sgs||

    It's within his responsibilities. Let them appeal all they like.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    I'm guessing they're accusing him of being anti-police because they can't get away with accusing him of being anti-white. But that's just a guess, based on a quick read of some of his Trayvon Martin writings.

  • ||

    Eh, this makes me squirm in my seat a bit, because the next judge can come along and help a prosecutor get a conviction on someone we like, as opposed to someone we think is deserving scum.

  • Hugh Akston||

    Yeah that's always the problem with favoring outcomes over process, isn't it? It's weird how Team Red and Team Blue just refuse to learn that lesson.

  • anon||

    Ironically, both teams often fail to achieve the desired outcome while focusing on it.

  • Hugh Akston||

    Well I never claimed they weren't retarded.

  • ||

    Agreed. But this is the system we have, so you might as well be pleased when it goes your way for once in a blue moon.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    "Anti-police" is presumably defined as declining to summarily dismiss all charges.

  • sarcasmic||

    "He feels terrible about what happened! Why do you want him to suffer even more?"

  • Hugh Akston||

    "Look at that hang-dog expression, he's learned his lesson. Let's get him a present."

  • Andrew S.||

    Plus he's going to have lost his job, which we've learned here is punishment enough.

  • sarcasmic||

    Being a cop is a way of life. You can do whatever you want.

    You can lie, cheat, steal, assault, trespass, and no one can do a thing. Seriously. What are they going to do? Call the cops?

  • anon||

    the defense argued, he was anti-police

    Of course he's anti-police; he entertained the idea of a cop going to jail. Cops can't tolerate this kind of behavior!

  • ||

    Don't worry, I'm sure the police union will go to the mat for him and do everything possible to get him off or, if he is convicted, get his sentence reduced. They are nothing if not tireless in their quest to make no cop accountable for anything, and their members like it that way.

  • Hugh Akston||

    Does Jesse know you're using his wrestling metaphors, Epi?

  • ||

    YA I KNOW I SHOULD HAVE GOT THE SPONSORS SET UP AHEAD OF TIME BUT I WAS TOO BUSY SUPLEXING A SHARK WEARING A BOLO TIE! YOU’RE PROBABLY WONDERING WHO WAS WEARING THE BOLO TIE! ME OR THE SHARK? ANSWER: YES!

  • sarcasmic||

    I will assume that this judge doesn't drink and drive, because he just threw away his 'Get Out of Jail Free' card.

  • ChrisO||

    The judge essentially taking over voir dire and choosing the jury himself sounds like excellent grounds for an appeal. My guess is that the defense will seek an immediate appeal of these rulings, rather than waiting until after the retrial.

    This cop sounds like a rotten one, but subverting the trial process is not the way to go about things.

  • John||

    Not really. Judges do that all of the time. There is nothing unusual or necessarily unfair about it. As pointed out in the article, this is how it works in federal trials.

    I am not convinced the defense has much of a case here. Sadly, a racially balanced jury is a legitimate concern where the victim or the accused are black.

  • prolefeed||

    I've never heard of a judge picking the jury before. Not as sanguine as you about letting an agent of the government pick who is on the jury, since that undercuts the notion of the jury being an independent check on the government.

    Sets a bad precedent, even if the defendant is someone you find icky.

  • R C Dean||

    Not as sanguine as you about letting an agent of the government pick who is on the jury,

    You're aware that all attorneys are officers of the court, yes?

  • ||

    The judge essentially taking over voir dire and choosing the jury himself sounds like excellent grounds for an appeal.

    Yep. Sounds like grounds for reversal if the trial goes through to a conviction. If this judge really thinks this cop should be in jail, then he needs to stick like Krazy Glue to the rules.

  • John||

    It is not. And the judge isn't choosing the jury himself, just the questions. The two parties will still be able to challenge for cause and have peremptory strikes to use.

  • ||

    And the judge isn't choosing the jury himself

    I'm not familiar enough with the case to know offhand and cbf to Google, but from the article, that's exactly what it sounds like he's doing:

    Griffin... has said he would pick members of the new jury even over objections from either prosecutors or defense attorneys.

  • John||

    I think that is bad writing on the journalist's part. I find it difficult to believe he said that. More likely is he said he would conduct voi dire and run the process of picking a new jury over objections.

  • anon||

    choosing the jury himself

    Pretty common when the defense and prosecution can't come to an agreement.

  • Swiss Servator - past LTC(ret)||

    Not in any jurisdiction I ever tried a case in...and that includes, PA, OH, IL, TX.

  • sgs||

    Wow, 4 whole states.

  • Nicholas Sarwark||

    CO too.

  • Nicholas Sarwark||

    The judge essentially taking over voir dire and choosing the jury himself sounds like excellent grounds for an appeal. My guess is that the defense will seek an immediate appeal of these rulings, rather than waiting until after the retrial.

    I wouldn't. I'd object to the procedure to preserve the issue, then have the trial. Good reversible error in the case of a conviction, client can't be retried in the case of an acquittal.

    Good lawyering is not only about spotting the issues, but knowing when to raise them.

  • John||

    Hastings originally said the teens were driving a car toward him,

    The modern American police tactic of shoot anyone who makes even a small false move.

  • CE||

    All judges should have an anti-police bias. People are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Make the cops prove their case.

    Of course, any public official who makes race a selection criterion for anything should be fired, for violating the 15th Amendment.

  • ||

    Yeah, no heroes in this case. Even if the asshole cop gets convicted, the fact that it might be because of the maneuvering of a race-obsessed asshole judge takes a lot of the good out of it.

  • John||

    That is the depressing part. The judge seems to be pissed the cop shot a black man not that the cop shot someone. Had the victim been white or Asian, the judge seems like he wouldn't have cared.

  • sarcasmic||

    Wendall. Wendall Griffin. Hmmm. Trying to think if I've ever met a white guy named Wendall. Don't think so. Let's google him up. Yup. The judge is black.

    White cop. Black victim. Black judge unhappy that an all white jury was unable to convict white cop of killing a black person, and now he wants to be sure some blacks are on the jury.

    No surprise here.

  • Ted S.||

    Trying to think if I've ever met a white guy named Wendall.

    Wendell Corey

    Wendell Willkie

  • R C Dean||

    an all white jury was unable to convict white cop person of killing a black person,

    To be fair, that was pretty much SOP during the Jim Crow days. Granted, those days were over 50 years ago and would be a distant memory if not for race hustlers of all stripe constantly banging on about the civil rights struggle (which was, I note, OVER 50 YEARS AGO).

  • robc||

    Im not sure voir dire is needed at all. First 12 names out of the hat.

  • sarcasmic||

    White cop. Black victim. Black judge.

    He wants to be sure that there are some blacks on the jury since an all-white jury couldn't convict.

  • prolefeed||

    I think you're missing the point -- first twelve names out of the hat would almost certainly result in at least one black on the jury. Whereas, voir dire with preemptory strikes means it is possible to strike anyone who isn't white off the jury, if the percentage of white potential jurors is high enough.

  • Nicholas Sarwark||

    But see Batson v. Kentucky.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Plus he's going to have lost his job, which we've learned here is punishment enough.

    This is why the Founders wrote Amendment Number Eight; if that's not cruel and unusual punishment, what is?

    Being cast out of Baboon Heaven, to wander unarmed and alone, is too horrible to contemplate.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Griffin... has said he would pick members of the new jury even over objections from either prosecutors or defense attorneys.

    You could also interpret this to mean the judge won't give them unlimited challenges.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Video Game Nation: How gaming is making America freer – and more fun.
  • Matt Welch: How the left turned against free speech.
  • Nothing Left to Cut? Congress can’t live within their means.
  • And much more.

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement