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Government of the Virgin Islands v. Weatherwax

77 F.3d 1425 (1996)

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Government of the Virgin Islands v. Weatherwax

United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

77 F.3d 1425 (1996)

Facts

A federal jury convicted William Weatherwax (defendant) of second-degree murder and illegal firearm possession. After exhausting his direct appeal, Weatherwax filed a habeas corpus petition that raised an ineffective-assistance-of-counsel (IAC) claim. Weatherwax alleged that his trial counsel, Michael Joseph, had failed to inform the trial court that a juror was holding a newspaper that contained an article about the trial that distorted Weatherwax’s testimony and was damaging to Weatherwax. The government (plaintiff) argued that even if the juror had read the article, Joseph’s failure to object was part of Joseph’s reasonable trial strategy. Joseph testified during an evidentiary hearing that Weatherwax’s case created a racially charged atmosphere in the Virgin Islands because Weatherwax, a White person—or Continental—had shot St. Clair Hazel, an unarmed Black man, and witnesses provided conflicting accounts about whether Hazel presented any danger to Weatherwax. Joseph’s trial strategy was to select as many Continental jurors as possible because Joseph believed that Continentals would be more sympathetic to Weatherwax’s claims that he shot Hazel in self-defense. Although Joseph was aware that one of the three White jurors had a newspaper on the last day of trial, Joseph had never seen more White jurors on a jury in the Virgin Islands, and Joseph did not think Weatherwax would get a better jury if Joseph notified the district court and the court declared a mistrial. The district court granted relief on the IAC claim, emphasizing that Joseph had disregarded Weatherwax’s desire to file a mistrial motion. The government appealed.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Stapleton, J.)

Dissent (Lewis, J.)

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