Two north-central Iowans convicted of murder have cases sent back to district court after concerns about jury pool

DES MOINES — The convictions of two north-central Iowa men in separate murder cases have been upheld by the Iowa Supreme Court, but they each could get a new trial after their cases have been sent back to district court to see if their constitutional rights to a fair trial due to the make-up of the jury pool have been violated.

Peter Veal of Lake Mills was convicted of first-degree murder in July 2017 by a Webster County jury for the November 2016 murders of Caleb Christensen and Melinda Kavars in Mason City. Veal’s trial was moved from Mason City to Fort Dodge after a change of venue request was granted due to pre-trial publicity.

Antoine Williams of Charles City was convicted by a Floyd County jury in October 2017 of second-degree murder for the June 2017 murder of Nathaniel Fleming outside a Charles City apartment complex.

In both cases, appeals were made because of the lack of African-Americans in the jury pool. The Iowa Supreme Court in their written rulings say it appears there were no African-Americans on the jury panel for Williams’ trial, while Veal’s pool only had five African-Americans out of 153 potential jurors, below the percentage of adult African-Americans in Webster County.

The Supreme Court affirmed both men’s convictions and sentences, but remands their cases back to district court to allow further consideration of their claims that the juries were not drawn from a fair cross-section of the community in violation of the Sixth Amendment. The Supreme Court says if the district court rejects their claims, their convictions and sentences shall stand. If the district court accepts the claims, the defendants would receive a new trial.

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