A Black man charged with murder in the shooting death of a woman in Cherryfield three years ago objects to wearing a mask at his jury trial next month because jurors, who most likely will be white, could conclude he’s guilty based on his race rather than on the evidence.
Some of the coronavirus-related precautions proposed for Carine Reeves’ trial violate the defendant’s rights to a fair and public trial and to confront witnesses, Reeves’ attorney, Stephen Smith of Augusta, said in a court motion filed Wednesday. Smith also argued that his client should not be required to wear a mask because it is associated with the commission of crimes, especially when worn by a Black man.
Smith also objects to prosecutors referring to Reeves by his street name “Terror.”
Reeves, 40, of New York City is charged with murder in the death of Sally Shaw, 55, of New Gloucester three years ago in Cherryfield. His jury trial, one of the first to be held in the state since March, is set to begin with jury selection on Sept. 21 at the Penobscot Judicial Center in Bangor.
In his motion, Smith pointed to a June study by researchers in North Carolina in which they noted that “African Americans are particularly prone to racial profiling solely due to the fact that they are wearing masks.”
That finding applied when a Black male model was wearing a cloth face covering or bandana, but not a surgical mask, according to the researchers from the University of North Carolina, North Carolina State University and other schools.
“[There is a] greater risk the jury will find the defendant guilty, not because of the evidence in this case, but because the defendant is an African American wearing a mask,” Smith said.
Earlier this month, Superior Court Justice Harold Stewart II decided that all jurors, witnesses, lawyers, court personnel and the defendant would be required to wear masks during the trial. He also is having plexiglass placed around the witness box as an extra precaution.
Smith objected to the requirement that jurors, witnesses and defendants wear masks.
“Our nation is at a serious inflection point when it comes to race relations,” he said. “The public is inundated with headlines on the theme of ‘Black Lives Matter.’ Requiring the jury, witnesses and defendants to be masked will fuel the perception that Black men do not receive an equal measure of justice in these United States.”
Smith also objects to the plexiglass around the witness box because it will “undermine [Reeves’] ability to confront witnesses against him” and inhibit jurors’ “ability to effectively determine the veracity of witnesses’ statements.”
Reeves’ trial, moved by agreement last year from Machias to Bangor, will take up two of the Penobscot Judicial Center’s three trial courtrooms and the large conference room on the courthouse’s second floor. The largest courtroom will be reserved for the trial with jurors sitting in the gallery to ensure social distancing. A second courtroom will be set aside as a jury room, and the conference room will host members of the public, including the victim’s family members and reporters, who will be able to watch a live feed of the trial.
Smith has not objected to those plans.
Assistant Attorney General Leane Zainea on Wednesday declined to comment on Smith’s motion but is expected to file a response before jury selection begins on Sept. 21.
Currently, court employees, lawyers and the public are required to wear masks in the state’s courthouses. At two recent sentencings in murder cases, family members of victims and the defendants were allowed to remove their masks when speaking to the judge. People who lived out of state were allowed to testify remotely using their cellphones, computers or other devices without wearing masks.
Because of concerns about the coronavirus, the court has summoned a record 500 Penobscot County residents as potential jurors in the Reeves’ case. The racial makeup of the jury will not be known until it is selected in a random process. The county is more than 93 percent white with just 1 percent of its population identifying as African American, according to the U.S Census Bureau.
If convicted, Reeves faces 25 years to life in prison.
His trial in Maine initially was delayed while charges in New York were resolved. Reeves was sentenced to 20 years in prison in the Empire State for two separate assaults.
After his trial, Reeves would return to New York to complete that sentence before he would begin to serve any sentence in Maine if found guilty of murder.