He got 100 years for shooting at police. Now a debate over racial bias prompts new trial.
In 2016, Ramar Crump was convicted of crimes related to a chaotic shooting with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg police force three years ago. Supreme Court Justice Greg Hayes sentenced Crump to up to 100 years in prison.
Now a divided Supreme Court has ruled a new trial that found that Hayes Crump's attorney was wrong to prevent potential jurors from questioning potential jurors about their possible racial prejudice.
This month's 4-3 ruling overturned a 2018 appeals court ruling that unanimously upheld Crump's belief.
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However, the seven members of the state's supreme court have worked opposing sides on whether Hayes has dampened a test of racial bias that legal reformers have long blamed for more arrests, convictions, and tougher sentences for minority defendants.
"An essential feature of the right to a fair and impartial trial is the right to be tried by a jury who does not judge a party or the evidence on the basis of animus or prejudice against a racial group," wrote Judge Anita Earls in the majority decision.
Earls, a Black and former Charlotte attorney, argued that the racist attitudes of Crump's potential jurors should have been investigated as they were relevant to the outcome of the trial.
Earls said the evidence showed "a clear link" between the questions Crump's attorney - Greg Tosi of Charlotte - attempted to ask in selecting the jury and "the significant factual disputes the jury had to resolve."
Did Crump, then a 26-year-old black man from Albemarle, or two white CMPD officers shoot first in their violent encounter on North Tryon Street in 2013?
Did Crump flee the scene because he committed a crime or because he thought he would be shot by the police?
Earls, co-chair of the state's Racial Justice Task Force, wrote, “While we do not question the integrity of the jury who ultimately chose to convict (Crump), we do question the defendant's inability to track down potential jurors Questioning Racial Prejudice The shooting of black men by police officers deprived him of a vital tool to reduce the risk of racial prejudice infecting his trial. "
The verdict sparked acrimonious and bipartisan dissent as the new Chief Justice Paul Newby, a Republican, joined Democratic colleagues Mark Davis and Michael Morgan.
In his opinion, Davis wrote that the majority of his peers acted like defense attorneys rather than judges - they offered a defense they thought Crump should have received while asking questions they thought Tosi should have asked.
He said Hayes, the trial judge, did not attempt to block a bias test from the jury, only poorly worded and inappropriate questions from the defense.
“The majority seem to be saying that this court is free to put forward its own arguments that the defense attorney could - and perhaps should - make in front of the court and then rely on the same grounds to claim that the court is abusing them has his discretion, ”wrote Davis.
"Needless to say, such a phrase is inconsistent with both law and logic."
The Mecklenburg district public prosecutor said Crumps' next trial had been classified as "pending".
Hayes could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
The poker game
The Crump case began with the robbery of an underground poker game on September 24, 2013. When the cards were dealt in an office suite in Charlotte, two armed men entered, asked the players to undress, and then fled with their wallets, money , Cell phones, credit cards and clothing.
One of the victims had a plan to catch the armed men. He texted one of the stolen phones with details of a new deck of cards, a fake one, at a location on North Tryon Street.
In the early morning of September 29th, Crump and two companions stopped in Crump's silver Ford Mustang outside the Tryon Street location, according to court records.
The player who lured her there had already arrived and was waiting armed in his own car. But after seeing that Crump was carrying a gun, the player drove to a parking lot and called 911. He reported a suspicious vehicle with armed occupants, court documents show.
Four CMPD officials, including Anthony Holzhauer and David Sussman, answered the call looking for a silver Mustang with at least two armed inmates who were planning a robbery, the Supreme Court opinion said.
Holzhauer, who was carrying a shotgun, and Sussman walked to the rear parking lot with the service revolver drawn and spotted Crumps Mustang.
A firefight broke out. Crump tried to escape and drove to a parking lot exit. The police fired as the vehicle passed them. A 20 mile chase ensued. When it ended, police found some of the stolen items from the card game heist in the trunk of Crump's car, along with guns and other items.
Crump later said he didn't know the gunshots were coming from the police until he raced out of the parking lot, and he said the cops shot first.
He said he did not drive by because he was afraid of being shot. At one point during the chase, Crump and the other two inmates reportedly stuck their hands and a white T-shirt out the windows. He also called 911 to explain the situation, "hoping to find a way to surrender without being shot."
However, it never stopped. The chase ended when the police burst Crumps tires.
The competing reports of the shooting paved the way for the attempt.
Holzhauer and Sussman testified that Crump, unprovoked, fired first. Crump said that while he was sitting in his car waiting to check out, but not robbing the game of poker, he saw the silhouette of a man with a long gun pointed at him, heard gunfire, and felt a knock on his side door. He said he returned fire out of fear for his life.
The Supreme Court's opinion and disagreement centered on what happened before the testimony, when lawyers on both sides tried to select a jury and Tosi raised the issue of a possible racial bias by the jury against his client.
"When you hear the statement," the only black man charged with robbery, "what is the first thing that comes to mind?" he asked.
Prosecutor Glenn Cole disagreed with the opinion. Hayes supported the objection.
Tosi next tried to question the potential jury about police shootings of black men in general. Crump's arrest in 2013 came just weeks after CMPD officer Randall "Wes" Kerrick was charged with the death of Jonathan Ferrell. Kerrick is white; Ferrell was black. Charges against the officer were dropped after Kerrick's 2015 homicide trial ended in a hanging jury.
At Crump's 2016 trial, Tosi asked if any of the potential jurors were familiar with the Ferrell case. Cole disagreed again. Hayes persevered.
"Your Honor ... can I check with the jury to see if they have any opinions on incidents in which police shot civilians?" Asked Tosi.
Hayes said he couldn't and dismissed Cole as an inappropriate "stake out question" or as one that sought to see how jurors would vote on certain facts.
Tosi said he was just trying to see if the potential jurors had opinions about the Ferrell shooting that "would affect their ability to investigate the evidence on this case".
Hayes: "We don't go that route when selecting the jury. If it gets to the point during the process that this becomes a problem, we can have a lot more discussion about it."
On Wednesday, after Tosi read the Supreme Court opinion, Tosi said the majority had correctly concluded that "Mr. Crump's rights have been violated by our inability to ask these questions. "Every time he tried he said," It was shut down, shut down, shut down. "
He said the dissenting Supreme Court justices "sliced the cake to get the pieces they wanted" but missed the bigger point.
“Racial bias was an issue in 2013 when the arrest took place. It was an issue in 2016 related to the process, ”said Tosi.
"And it's a bigger problem today than ever."
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Gregory J. Hayes
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