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Jan 17, 7:24 PM EST

Judge denies request to boost number of Trump voters in jury



WICHITA, Kan. (AP) -- Three men accused of plotting to bomb an apartment complex housing Somali refugees in Kansas have no legal basis to request that prospective jurors come from rural counties where more residents voted for President Donald Trump, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.

The men are accused of targeting apartments and a mosque in Garden City, a meatpacking area in rural western Kansas. But they are being tried about 220 miles (354 kilometers) away at the closest federal courthouse in Wichita, where trials pull prospective jurors from surrounding, more urban counties.

The men argue the practice is discriminatory because it excludes western Kansas counties where more rural, conservative residents live.

U.S. District Judge Eric Melgren ruled that the demographic differences between the regions aren't legally recognizable and wouldn't violate the men's right to a jury trial before a cross-section of the community. Melgren also said the defendants lacked standing to act on behalf of citizens in those counties to challenge the court's practice.

Prosecutors had opposed the men's request, arguing that defense attorneys were trying to pick a jury pool based on ideology and open "a dangerous door" to similar requests in other cases.

The defendants - Gavin Wright, Patrick Stein and Curtis Allen - are accused of plotting to detonate truck bombs in Garden City a day after the November 2016 election. They are charged with conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction and conspiracy against civil rights. Wright also is accused of lying to the FBI.

The men, who prosecutors allege were part of a militia group, have pleaded not guilty.

Defense attorneys noted that prospective jurors who live in southwestern Kansas were twice as likely to have voted for Trump than prospective jurors in the Wichita area. That's important because jurors will have to decide whether the men's alleged conduct constituted a crime, or whether it was protected under the constitutional rights to free speech and assembly, and to bear arms.

Melgren said there was no evidence to support the "bare assertion" that citizens in southwest Kansas possess an ideology that fundamentally differs from citizens to their east in the Wichita area.

The judge also noted that adding prospective jurors from sparsely populated western Kansas counties would boost the number of registered Republicans in the jury pool by only 2.37 percent, which he said was "entirely insufficient to show political discrimination."

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