CHICAGO — The Illinois Appellate Court this week found that prosecutors in the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office were “motivated by racial discrimination” when they dismissed a Black woman from the jury pool in a murder case that centered around the killing of a federal informant.
In an order made public Tuesday, the court reversed Spencer Martin’s 2012 murder conviction and ordered a new trial. The reversal was based on the court’s finding that Cook County prosecutors improperly used one of four peremptory strikes to dismiss a potential juror — a Black woman.
The appellate court wrote that the Black potential juror was dismissed from the pool after she told prosecutors that she could not remember the name of the businesses where her son and ex-husband worked. The court noted that another prospective juror, a non-Black man, was unable to tell prosecutors exactly where his daughter was employed, yet no peremptory strike was used.
“The manifest weight of evidence is that the State was motivated by racial discrimination when it exercised a peremptory strike against one Black female juror based on judgments about her from her answers to questions during voir dire where the State did not exercise a peremptory challenge against a similarly situated non-Black juror and formulated excuses for his similar responses,” the court wrote.
The state’s attorney’s office declined to comment on the appellate court’s order. Martin’s attorney could not be reached.
In May 2006, Earl Willis’ body was discovered in his vehicle near 72nd Street and South Indiana Avenue in Greater Grand Crossing. He was reported missing about three months three months earlier. The Cook County medical examiner’s office determined he was shot three times, though police recovered just one empty shell casing in the vehicle.
In February of that year, prosecutors said, Willis and Martin were involved in a robbery and shooting at a gas station near West Lawrence and North Clarendon in Uptown. Police at the time said evidence recovered in that shooting matched other evidence found at another shooting near 68th Street and South Ashland in West Englewood the month before.
Eventually, authorities said, the ballistics evidence in those two shootings was matched with the shell casing that was recovered in the vehicle where Willis’ body was found.
Martin was convicted of murdering Willis in 2012 and he was sentenced to life in prison.
Though his murder conviction was reversed, Martin, 44, is still in custody of the Illinois Department of Corrections. Court records show that Martin was sentenced to more than 100 years in prison for his convictions in the Uptown and West Englewood shootings.