AUBURN — A judge on Friday rejected a claim by a Lewiston man that prosecutors excluded the only African-American from the trial jury because he was the same race as the defendant.

Malik Hollis, 21, who is African-American, was seeking an acquittal or new trial.

Hollis was convicted in July by a jury in Androscoggin County Superior Court on charges of reckless conduct with a firearm and criminal threatening with a dangerous weapon. He was sentenced to three years in prison.

Police said Hollis fired gunshots in the direction of several men in late morning on May 21, 2016.

Hollis claimed the shooting was in self-defense.

Justice William Stokes wrote in his 10-page decision that Assistant District Attorney Katherine Bozeman did not intend to discriminate against the only African-American juror in the jury pool because of his race.

During jury selection on July 6 for Hollis’ trial, juror No. 71 was the only African-American and the only person of color among a pool of 32 prospective jurors. When Bozeman opted to have juror No. 71 dropped from the jury, defense attorney James Howaniec objected, noting juror No. 71 was the only person of color in the pool.

Stokes said he hadn’t noticed a pattern of bias by the prosecutor.

Bozeman said she dropped juror No. 71 because of his low level of education and “other various factors.”

In his Friday decision, Stokes wrote that he erred during jury selection by not taking Howaniec’s objection through a three-step process established in the case of Batson v. Kentucky in which “the Constitution forbids striking even a single prospective juror for a discriminatory purpose.”

At a September hearing on Hollis’ motion, Bozeman explained that she had formed a negative impression of juror No. 71 during an earlier jury selection for a different criminal case. That juror had said he’d witnessed domestic violence involving a child and his grandmother. The juror’s demeanor appeared “nonchalant,” Bozeman said.

In his analysis of Hollis’ motion, Stokes said he examined the court record from both the earlier jury selection and Hollis’ jury selection. He noted in his Friday decision that Bozeman’s preferred jurors for the Hollis case who had levels of education higher than that of juror No. 71. In several cases, the jurors she picked had college educations. She only excluded a college-educated juror who had a criminal record, Stokes noted.

Howaniec had argued at Hollis’ hearing on his motion in September that six of the empaneled jurors for his trial had 12th grade educations, only one grade higher than the excluded juror. Two jurors struck by Bozeman had some college education. Howaniec also argued that Bozeman hadn’t raised the issue of juror No. 71’s nonchalance about domestic violence in her initial explanation for his removal.

But Stokes wrote that he had given Bozeman an opportunity to expand on her reasoning for not wanting juror No. 71 on the Hollis jury at the September hearing because he had cut short the inquiry during the Hollis jury selection in July.

Stokes wrote in his order that “the court is satisfied by its first-hand observation of the prosecutor at sidebar when Juror (No.) 71 was struck, that her volunteered explanation was genuine and not a pretext for racial animosity towards the juror.”

Howaniec said Friday he planned to appeal Stokes’ decision to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

“We need to find out why less than one percent of our jury pools in Androscoggin County are comprised of non-Caucasians,” he said. “It is pretty sad when you have a black defendant and everyone else in the room is white. And it is troubling when the one black juror in the room is excluded by the prosecutor.”

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Malik Hollis is pictured at a hearing in September in Androscoggin County Superior Court with attorney James Howaniec. 

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