BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — A former Kern County prosecutor had valid reasons for dismissing a Black potential juror in the trial of a Black man who was convicted of murder, a judge ruled Friday.
Superior Court Judge John W. Lua found Jim Simson gave a reasonable explanation for the potential juror’s dismissal, one that had nothing to do with race or ethnicity. The judge noted Simson selected two Black jurors.
The guilty convictions against Dontrell Collins, who is serving 73 years to life in prison, will stand.
Collins was convicted in 2017 of driving in excess of 100 mph on Rosedale Highway and slamming into the back of a car occupied by three woman. The car burst into flames.
Pavinder Kaur Claire, 22, and Jaclyn Kvasnicka, 27, were pinned in and died in the 2014 crash. Jessica Magee suffered severe burns.
It was alleged Collins had alcohol and PCP in his system.
Last year, the 5th District Court of Appeal in Fresno conditionally reversed Collins’ convictions, finding Lua should have held a full, three-step process — called a Batson-Wheeler motion — when Collins’ trial attorney objected to the prosecution’s dismissal of a potential juror based on racial bias.
The case was ordered back to Kern.
Simson, who has since left the District Attorney’s office, argued during a hearing that took place over multiple days “the excusal was intricately linked to the facts of this case far more than other jurors.”
He said the potential juror worked as a mental health technician for California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
Simson, expecting the defense to mount a “pseudo-insanity” defense including reports stating Collins was schizophrenic, said he was concerned how the juror would react when he challenged the opinions of mental health workers.
Simson said the juror’s job involved trusting the accuracy and reliability of such reports. The prosecutor feared the juror would be more likely to side with the defense on mental health issues.
Those were among the reasons he dismissed her, Simson told the court.
Joshua P. Fleshman, the attorney who represented Collins at the hearing, had argued earlier that too much time had passed and it was impossible to assess Simson’s demeanor at the time of the challenge and the potential juror’s demeanor when questioned by attorneys.
He said Simson had more than four years to come up with race-neutral reasons for the dismissal.