WHARTON, Texas – A prosecutor in Southeast Texas who confided to a friend that his boss encouraged him to exclude Black people as jurors later denied the statement, according to a court transcript.
Wharton County Assistant District Attorney Nathan Wood spoke during a March 11 hearing following a Black woman’s conviction on assault charges. There were no Black jurors at the trial of Chrisandra Ware, 30, where three Black jury candidates were excluded for other reasons, Wood said.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that race should not be used when considering potential jurors.
According to the hearing transcript, Wood indicated he told a friend he felt stress over the trial and being “instructed” by District Attorney Ross Kurtz to exclude Black jurors. His friend apparently told a different judge about the Feb. 26 private conversation, which prompted the hearing.
At the hearing, Wood said that he didn’t “strike any juror in this case on the basis of race. I have never struck a juror in any case based on race.” He also clarified his statements from that personal conversation.
“To be clear about the word ‘instructed,’ the district attorney never gave me a direct order or a chain-of-command directive to strike jurors based on race,” Wood said, later adding that he was “advised or encouraged” to strike Black jurors “as a matter of trial strategy.”
Kurtz denied advising staff to exclude Blacks from juries.
“My instructions and guidance have always been and will always be that prosecutors should not take race into account in exercising the choices allowed by law on which potential jurors to strike,” Kurtz said in a statement to the Houston Chronicle and KPRC-TV.
Ware is still awaiting sentencing. Her attorney, Mark Racer, said he plans to seek a mistrial.