At worse than 100 to 1, the odds of a randomly-selected jury pool in Chicago containing not a single black man might make even the most compulsive gambler cringe.
But if keen casino-goer Cook County Commissioner William Beavers had placed a bet on that outcome in his federal tax fraud case, he’d have won big.
Instead, he’s facing a prospect that incensed his attorneys Tuesday: a week-long trial without any chance of a fellow African-American man on his jury.
“Don’t tell me this was an accident!,” one of his lawyers, Sam Adam Sr., hollered outside the Dirksen Federal Courthouse hours after the pool of 50 potential jurors walked in to Judge James Zagel’s courtroom to begin jury selection. “I thought I was in Mississippi today ... the only black man down here today was Jim Crow!”
Accused of failing to pay taxes on $226,000 in campaign funds he used for personal expenses including casino trips, Beavers has insisted since his indictment that he is being vindictively prosecuted for refusing to wear a wire for the feds.
The latest wrinkle in his case seemed to surprise even Zagel, 72, who said he had never in his long career come across a criminal jury pool without a black man in it.
But the judge refused Beavers’ attorneys request for a new jury pool, saying he did not have the power to remove a randomly-selected pool unless Beavers’ legal team can show the court’s jury office made mistakes picking at random from voter registrations and drivers licences.
Fully 19 percent of the residents of all ages of Cook and the collar counties from which federal juries in Chicago are selected are black, according to census data. Based on that data, the probability of a randomly-selected jury pool of 50 containing no black men is less than one percent, assuming all who are called show up.
The jury pool — which does include at least two black women — wasn’t Beavers’ only setback Tuesday.
Zagel also ruled that prosecutors can show jurors Beavers’ tax return for 2005. Though Beavers isn’t accused of any wrongdoing in that year, it’s a blow to his claim that he made an honest mistake in each of the three subsequent years when he failed to declare that he’d used his political campaign fund for personal expenses.
Beavers declared in his 2005 return that he had supplemented his income with $43,000 from his campaign fund, and signed a letter to the IRS at the time, acknowledging he’d used the money for personal expenses.
The admission makes it harder for his attorneys to now argue that he didn’t know he had to disclose cash he took from the campaign fund between 2006 and 2008.
Opening arguments are scheduled for Wednesday afternoon, once jury selection is completed.
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