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High Court Won’t Hear Harvard Scholar’s Plea : Justice: Jose Razo Jr., who rose from the barrio to academic and athletic heights, cited two Latinos who were barred from his robbery-trial jury.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The California Supreme Court on Wednesday refused to hear an appeal from convicted armed-robber Jose Luis Razo Jr., dealing another legal setback to the one-time Harvard University student/athlete.

Razo, whose rise from a modest La Habra barrio made him a symbol of hope for youth in his community, had argued that two Latinos were unfairly excluded as jurors on racial grounds at his 1989 trial in Orange County Superior Court in Santa Ana.

In August, the 4th District Court of Appeal in Santa Ana called Razo’s story a “sad tale” but rejected his contentions. And in a decision released Wednesday without comment, none of the seven justices on the state Supreme Court agreed to hear his appeal.

Razo’s attorney said she will probably appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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Razo, 25, is now serving time in Pelican Bay State Prison in Northern California. He was sentenced to more than 10 years in prison in August, 1989, after a jury found that he had committed six armed robberies in Orange County while on school break from Harvard.

A star football player and scholar at Servite High School in Anaheim, Razo had been an altar boy, was president of a Boys Club and received several scholarship offers. But Razo said after his arrest that he felt alienated and misunderstood at Harvard--and guilty over having abandoned his barrio for the upscale lifestyle of Cambridge, Mass.

“I’m a homeboy now,” Razo said in a 1987 jailhouse interview. “At Harvard, I didn’t fit in . . . I was confused.”

Razo contacted police himself in July, 1987, and admitted almost boastfully to officers that he had robbed several local businesses at gunpoint.

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Razo’s attorney later maintained that the young man was covering for others and was high on PCP at the time of the confessions. But the taped admissions were allowed into evidence at his trial, and jurors said they played a key part in his conviction.

Told Wednesday of the Supreme Court’s decision, Razo’s court-appointed appellate attorney said the rejection was disappointing but predictable.

“I’m not surprised,” attorney Lynda Romero of San Diego said. “There are very few criminal or civil cases that the court decides to take in light of the heavy calendar, but we’re always hopeful.”

Deputy Atty. Gen. Holly Wilkens, who sought to uphold the verdict, said: “This doesn’t surprise me. . . . Other than the special status of the defendant, there was just nothing unique about the case. I was reasonably confident we were going to prevail.”

Romero limited her Supreme Court petition to the question of jury selection.

The dispute began when Razo’s trial attorney, John Barnett, objected to the prosecutor’s dismissal of two potential jurors--both Latinos--through a peremptory challenge.

Lawyers are allowed to use their peremptory challenges to excuse potential jurors without giving a reason. But a 1978 state Supreme Court ruling in People vs. Wheeler concluded that lawyers cannot systematically bar members of a certain group.

At Razo’s trial, Judge Jean H. Rheinheimer said that if she found the Latinos had been unfairly excluded, her only option would be to declare a mistrial and dismiss the entire panel. The law affords no middle ground for merely reinstating the two Latinos, the judge said. And so, rather than starting anew, Barnett withdrew his objection, court records show.

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The 4th District Court of Appeal upheld that ruling, but Romero on Wednesday said the handling of the Latino jurors was “ridiculous.”

“The prosecutor was allowed to excuse all of the Latino juror members, so Mr. Razo was convicted by an all-white jury,” Romero said. “This to me is such a critical issue that it should be taken to the (U.S.) Supreme Court, and that’s what I hope to do.”


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