HOUSTON -- An effort by Houston area officials to thank residents for taking part in the jury selection process has ended with a mistrial in a murder case.
Last week, the office of Harris County District Clerk Marilyn Burgess held its annual Jury Appreciation Week, an event with guest speakers and door prizes that was created to “honor jurors and tell them how important their participation is in the American justice system."
But Houston public radio station KUHF reported Wednesday that a defense attorney criticized the comments one of the guest speakers made to potential jurors, objecting to statements that serving on a jury was a chance to provide “justice” for victims.
Defense attorney Sean Buckley said the comments presented a biased view of the justice system and tainted the jury pool.
“It was really tantamount to a pep rally for recruiting groups of jurors to go over to the courthouse and convict people of violent crimes,” he said.
Buckley said jurors from the appreciation week event were picked for the murder trial of his client, Itani Milleni, who is accused of beating his estranged wife to death in 2015.
Buckley asked for a mistrial over the comments and state District Judge Te’iva Bell granted the request on Wednesday.
Dane Schiller, a spokesman for the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, said prosecutors planned to retry Milleni.
“We will do all we can to protect society from this defendant, who is accused of a vicious murder,” Schiller said. “We will not be deterred in our efforts to see that all the facts are presented to a jury in a fair trial and that justice is done.”
In a statement on Thursday, the Harris County District Clerk’s Office said guest speakers during Jury Appreciation Week “are solely for inspiration and entertainment. The remarks made by the guest speakers are their own.”