Family members of a Minneapolis man who has been behind bars for more than four years are hoping for a new trial after two jurors emerged saying that racist comments made during deliberations, casting the man as a “banger from the hood,” influenced their decision.
The convicted man, Michael Smith of Minneapolis, who previously served more than a decade in prison for third-degree murder, was sent back there in 2013 after he was found guilty of being an armed career criminal in possession of a firearm.
“Look, he is a black person with a previous criminal record living in North Minneapolis,” one juror said during deliberations years ago, according to the testimony of a foreman who appeared at a federal courthouse in St. Paul on Tuesday, Fox 9 reported. “You know he’s just a banger from the hood, so he’s got to be guilty."
Two jurors said they were influenced by the comments, and Smith wound up in jail for a crime he maintains he did not commit, the station added.
A judge has set a hearing for early next year that could result in a new trial for Smith.
“How can you send someone to jail based off the color of their skin?” Smith's girlfriend, Nickole O'Neill, asked on Fox 9.
In the 2013 conviction, there was no evidence tying Smith to the gun he was accused of having -- for instance, fingerprints or DNA -- court documents said.
Smith’s lawyer had argued that the issue came down to credibility, and whether to believe police or testimony from Smith and a local resident.
Smith was ultimately sentenced to 15 years in federal prison without parole under the Armed Career Criminal Act, City Pages reported. It added that he was convicted of third-degree murder in 2001, and he also served two prison stints from a pair of fourth-degree assault convictions in 2005 and 2006.
The 15-year sentence is the mandatory minimum length under the act, City Pages said.
The foreman said he has felt guilty about the case since the day it ended, and decided to come forward after reading a news story about a similar case in Colorado, Fox 9 reported.