PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – A murder conviction has now been overturned, nearly four years after a Portland man was sentenced in the 2013 death of his toddler. Prosecutors dismissed two men from the jury pool who were Black, the same race as the defendant. A Court of Appeals is calling the process discriminatory.
Nearly four years to the day after Darian McWoods received a life sentence in the death of his 15-month-old daughter, the murder conviction is overturned. Heard in the Court of Appeals, it was revealed the prospective jury’s only two Black jurors were removed by prosecutors, and McWoods, a Black man, was found guilty, producing concerns that underlying racial bias could’ve had an impact on this case and the jury’s decision.
“Everyone’s acknowledging has these sort of baked in or structural biases,” said Marc Brown, senior deputy public defender. “This case really gets to how the courts look kind of underneath the hood if you will and find these implicit biases.”
In 2018, McWoods was found guilty of multiple charges including murder by abuse, after his 15-month-old daughter Kamaya Flores died in December 2013. An autopsy not only found methadone in her system, but also broken ribs and proof of compression asphyxiation, meaning she was crushed until she couldn’t breathe.
Presiding Judge Josephine Mooney ruled the state’s plausibility of having a race-neutral reason for removing a qualified Black juror was decreased with the second removal, ultimately impacting the trial jury. The Multnomah County District Attorney’s office released a statement, saying, “We intend to use its findings to further educate and inform our role in the administration of justice.” Public defenders add that McWoods’ case could set a precedent for future jury trial selections and court cases.
“Going forward, it definitely gives a structure that the trial courts need to employ when this is raised,” said Brown.
While some praised this ruling, others, like Kamaya’s family, say it’s reopening that wound they worked so hard to heal.
“It’s frustrating to have to go through it again. It’s like ripping a band aid off over and over again,” said Raquael Flores-Vuylsteke, Kamaya’s maternal grandmother. “We live with that every day and did a lot to get justice for her and it’s really frustrating.”
She says she’s ready to go through a trial again if she has to, but worries about the impact on her children, including Kamaya’s little sister who she adopted.
“Darian McWoods is a monster in my kids’ books,” said Flores-Vuylsteke. “I thought he was put away and I thought they weren’t going to have to face those nightmares again.”
For now, McWoods remains in custody. The overturned conviction could be appealed in front of the Oregon Supreme Court, but if not, McWoods’ case will likely be retried.
The senior prosecutor on the case left for the private sector last year. The Deputy DA is still with the office.