POWHATAN, VA (WWBT) - Members of the jury that convicted Dennis Edward Merchant, Jr. of murder say 'race' never entered their minds, and they are 'very comfortable with the verdict' that put the 'then' 19-year-old in prison for 20 years.
Merchant is a black man who looks white. He says Powhatan sheriff's deputies booked him as the wrong race and that portrayal impeded his right to a fair trial.
The Powhatan jury that convicted Merchant was all white, except for one African American woman. I talked to 5 of the 12 jurors by phone. They all declined to be seen on camera. Though it's public information, they do not want to be named. The trial was difficult and some are still emotional, they say, about sending a teen to prison.
The jury members say they saw Dennis Edward Merchant, Jr. as white. Only one said they knew Merchant was mixed race. But, even after I informed them that Merchant is black, they all said race was never discussed at trial. The words never uttered as a part of their discussion.
One juror did comment about the jury in the Tahlik Taliaferro trial saying everybody feels they got it wrong. We felt we needed to do our due diligence to get it right.
Another juror said they were all leaning towards a lesser charge of manslaughter until they saw the police interrogation tape. That was the turning point when they say Merchant, described how many times he stabbed Rashad Brown and showed them where. They say he appeared to boast about his own strength.
Another said they ruled out right away that it was not self defense. They called it 'God awful'...difficult to put a 19-year-old kid in prison. They said Merchant was convicted not because of black or white but, because he was stupid.
One juror says they felt sorry for Merchant. They almost had a hung jury but you can't wear your heart on your sleeve. I am very comfortable with the verdict.
"I'm not a bad person. It was a wrong place wrong time situation. If anybody was put in the situation I was put in, they would probably try to defend themselves as best as they could," said Dennis.
DIANE: "Anything to Rashad's family?"
DENNIS: "I'm so sorry it happened. Every day I wish that we could do something different. I understand why they had so much emotion towards me. That's their only child and he has a daughter."
Merchant wants a new trial and court and prison documents changed to reflect his real race.