RICHMOND — The Virginia Court of Appeals will soon decide whether there is merit to appeals from two men convicted of malicious wounding in the Aug. 12, 2017, assault of DeAndre Harris.
On Tuesday, a panel of three appeals judges heard arguments from attorneys representing the men in the Supreme Court of Virginia’s chambers in Richmond. As in their opening briefs, both attorneys expressed concerns with the jury selection process and argued against the malicious wounding convictions.
In May 2018, Jacob Goodwin and Alex Ramos were both found guilty in Charlottesville Circuit Court of malicious wounding and were later sentenced to eight years and six years in prison, respectively. Soon after their sentencings, both men appealed the verdicts; a judge granted their requests this past May, according to court records.
The two men were part of a group that chased Harris into the Market Street Parking Garage as the white supremacist Unite the Right rally devolved into chaos. Harris, who is black, was hit with sticks, shields and fists and was left with a laceration on his head that required staples to close, a broken wrist and multiple cuts and bruises.
A video of the assault shows a shield-wielding Goodwin knocking Harris to the ground and then continuing to beat him, alongside several other men. Later in the video, Ramos can be seen running into the garage and punching Harris.
Anthony Martin, an attorney appointed to represent Goodwin following his sentencing, further fleshed out his issues with the jury selection process.
As noted in his brief, Martin said four of the jurors should have been struck due to political affiliations and answers given during the selection process. Among the jurors were a man whose friends had protested the rally, a woman who had attended Black Lives Matter rallies in the past and a woman who briefly attended the UTR rally.
“There was a lot of ‘I don’t believe so’ and ‘I think so,’” Martin said, discussing the language one of the jurors used when answering whether the fact his friends protested the UTR rally would affect his ability to be impartial and whether he could set that aside. “We have to rely on a juror’s answers, and answers do have meaning.”
Judge Glen A. Huff said that, in an appeal, the judges do not know the tone or inflection a juror used when answering questions and thus give great deference to the court.
In a similar vein, Chief Judge Marla G. Decker said that the juror in question more accurately said “I don’t think so, no” when asked whether his relationships with some rally protesters would affect his ability to be impartial.
Martin clarified that he wasn’t arguing a “per se” exception should have been applied to the case, barring any juror with any knowledge or connection to the rally.
Leah Darron, a senior assistant attorney general representing the commonwealth, argued that Martin had agreed that no per se limit could be placed on jurors with a connection to the rally and that the circuit court’s decision to seat the jurors had been proper.
Similarly, John Joyce, who is representing Ramos and who represented him during trial, argued that the venue should have been changed and that knowledge of Goodwin’s prior conviction affected the jury pool.
Both Goodwin and Ramos were tried in the same week, Joyce said, and virtually every juror questioned was aware of Goodwin’s conviction. Because the men were known to have acted “in concert,” Joyce argued this could have led jurors to believe Ramos was also guilty by association.
“I think they were being honest about believing they could be impartial, but once they get in there and realize, ‘oh, that’s the other guy,’ I think that ability may have changed,” Joyce said, referring to Goodwin.
Joyce also argued that the single punch Ramos was filmed delivering to Harris’ head was insufficient to prove malicious wounding and that after that punch, Goodwin put his hands up.
“Yes, but there was a reason he put his hands up — the police showed up,” Decker replied.
Unlike Martin, Joyce said he thought there should have been a per se exception for jurors with a connection to the rally or other political rallies, particularly those of differing political views than those of his client.
Judge William G. Petty pointed out that if jurors with different political views were not considered, then there would not be many potential jurors.
Rosemary Bourne, a senior assistant attorney general representing the commonwealth, said that by asking members of the jury pool if they were aware of Goodwin’s conviction, Joyce had provided them with the very information he thought should exclude them from serving.
Following each 30-minute argument, the judges left the bench, shaking the attorneys’ hands, noting the difficult cases they had to argue.
The judges did not rule from the bench, nor did they give a timeline of when the opinions are to be expected.