JACKSON COUNTY PRISON GUARD RELEASED PENDING APPEAL

A former major with Florida’s Department of Corrections who was accused of attacking an inmate was released from federal prison this week while his case is appealed. Michael J. Baxter was charged with willfully depriving an inmate of the right not to be subject to cruel and unusual punishment and making false entries into records with the intent to obstruct an FBI investigation. The jury only convicted him of the obstruction charge and he was sentenced to five years in prison. However, Judge Robert Hinkle has ruled that there is a chance Baxter could be granted a new trial in the case because of an issue with jury selection. Under federal law, some inmates who pose no flight risk are allowed to be released during the appeal process. Baxter was convicted in April and released on July 1. At issue is Hinkle’s ruling that the defense was trying to remove a juror because she was African American. Hinkle sided with prosecutors who believed the defense was removing potential jurors because of race in a racially charged trial. The defense said they wanted the juror removed because she presented “negative body language.”  Hinkle added that he does not believe his ruling was in error. “The defense attempted to strike Ms. M for one reason only: her race. I so found at the time, and I adhere to that finding now,” he wrote. “But a district court’s belief that its ruling is correct does not, without more, defeat a motion for release pending appeal. Appellate courts exist for a reason: sometimes trial courts get it wrong.”   

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