Analysis: Was Wrongfully Convicted Fashion Designer a Victim of Racial Prejudice on the Part of Prosecutor?

In 2008, Anand Jon Alexander, a rising star in the fashion design world, was convicted of multiple counts of sexual assault and received a life sentence in prison. He is widely believed to have been wrongfully convicted of these crimes.
As his petition for commutation filed by his attorneys notes, ‘Mr. Alexander’s tainted trial and unreliable verdict and subsequently disproportionate prison sentence has resulted in a travesty of justice.’
Jeffrey Deskovic, himself an exoneree and head of the Jeffrey Deskovic Foundation, told the Vanguard, ‘Anand Jon’s case is fraught with prosecutorial misconduct and bad lawyering. It is no wonder he was wrongfully convicted.’
In a letter, Mr. Deskovic, who will be the Vanguard’s keynote speaker in a few weeks, added, ‘I have never seen a wrongful conviction case as broad and complex as this one. It’s absolutely stunning!’

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Similarly, having reviewed the evidence of factual innocence that was withheld by the police for over a decade, Exoneree Obie Anthony, founder of Exoneratednation.org, and former California Assemblywoman Patty Lopez, the author of Assembly Bill 1909, described the injustice against Anand Jon Alexander as ‘one of the worst cases of police misconduct…utterly shocking…poster boy victim of 1909 violations.’
Corey Parker, Counsel for American Justice Alliance, argues in his amicus curiae brief, ‘Unless this Court rectifies this wrongful conviction, minority groups and individuals in the State of California will live in fear of being subject to such similar state-sponsored discrimination and underhanded, unconstitutional tactics by the very law enforcement tasked with protecting them.’
Appellate Attorney Julia Anna Trant adds, ‘I am convinced that Mr. Alexander’s conviction is one of the worst miscarriages of justice I have ever encountered in my work as a legal professional. While working on Mr. Alexander’s case, I could not stop being astounded by the amount of violations of Mr. Alexander’s constitutional rights, the rules of criminal procedure, and the rules of evidence.’
While there are a number of complaints, including juror misconduct, Brady violations and police misconduct, a lesser-known but serious problem with his trial was the subtle but overt and egregious appeal to racial and religious prejudice.
In pretrial motions, the defense was able to get the judge to keep race and religion out of the case. However, they kept coming back in.
For instance, in a debate over whether a book would be admitted into evidence, the defense argued that ‘the court already said we’re keeping religion out of this case.’
During voir dire, Deputy DA Young noted, ‘I thought earlier when the court ruled we wouldn’t delve into religion, it wouldn’t touch on that area, so I didn’t object to it originally, but I thought it got into the moral, religious, spiritual areas we were trying to stay from.’
The judge noted, ‘I’m not going to permit it,’ and later clarified, ‘No, it’s out, I’m not going to allow it.’
However, despite the court’s admonishment, Ms. Young on behalf of the state was able to get racial issues before the jury during her closing arguments.
Mr. Parker writes, ‘Mr. Alexander’s conviction has been tainted by myriad due process violations and inescapable prejudice. The role that race, religion, and national origin played in his conviction has shaken the belief of Amici that South Asians, Middle Easterners, and other minorities can receive equal protection under the laws of this state.’
We can see these appeals in the transcript of Deputy DA Frances Young’s rebuttal closing arguments. The alleged victims are 19 girls – who are white.
Ms. Young sets the scene, noting that all of the girls described the same scene – an assault on a ‘cruddy air mattress… with dirty sheets, dirty towels, smelly t-shirts.’
She argued, ‘You know that Ferrari T-shirt that the clerk has. I don’t know if you want to do that, take a whiff of it. It’s not pleasant. It corroborates exactly what they said. He smelled. His apartment was disgusting.’
Later she added, ‘They all told you he smelled.’
As Mr. Parker points out, this is not an accident. He writes, ‘Mr. Alexander was a filthy outsider to the community, a ‘dirty’ and ‘smelly’ ‘Hindu from India,’ who read foreign Hebrew symbols ‘from right to left’…’
Mr. Alexander, from India, also has a Christian background.
Mr. Parker argued, ‘The gratuitous remarks made in Mr. Alexander’s case served no purpose other than to ‘inflame and prejudice the minds of the jurors against the defendant because he happened to be a [South Asian immigrant].’’
But perhaps more egregious, Ms. Young played on racial stereotypes as well.
She noted in her rebuttal, ‘Being a minority, I noticed that they were all white.’
She was able to work in the reference subtly, despite official judicial admonishment not to bring race into the equation.
Here the DA uses that longtime racial dog whistle, the fear of the white jurors that innocent, young, white girls or women will become the victims of a predatory person of color.
Mr. Parker argues, ‘Insinuating that a minority defendant preys upon white women is a highly inflammatory tactic that has been consistently treated as prosecutorial misconduct warranting relief.’
He notes that Florida’s high court reversed a death sentence because the prosecutor’s inquiry into the race of past victims was a ‘deliberate attempt to insinuate that appellant had a habit of preying on white women.’
Previously, courts found this to be a prejudicial error in a case where the prosecution argued that the black defendant told the white victim ‘something about white people having been taking advantage of the colored people and, of course, he wanted to get even with the white people.’
Argues Mr. Parker, ‘Statistics have shown decisively that a victim’s race can powerfully sway a jury, even to the extent that the race of a victim can play a dispositive role in whether a defendant lives or dies.’
Mr. Parker adds, ‘After portraying Mr. Alexander as a mystical and smelly foreigner, the prosecution maximized the prejudicial impact by presenting a contrast with the whiteness of the alleged victims. Beyond merely insinuating that Mr. Alexander had a preference for white women, the prosecution directly told the jury that he preyed specifically and exclusively on white women. This tactic presents a clear case of misconduct, and its prejudicial impact cannot reasonably be questioned.’
In a recent Supreme Court case, the court ruled, in reviewing the history of the state of Mississippi’s peremptory strikes in the Flowers case, that evidence ‘strongly supports the conclusion that the State’s use of peremptory strikes in Flowers’ sixth trial was motivated in substantial part by discriminatory intent.’
Indeed, the state attempted to strike all 36 black prospective jurors over the court of the first four trials – Curtis Flowers has been tried six separate times for his alleged role in the murder of four employees of a Mississippi furniture store.
Mr. Flowers is black; three of the four victims were white. The US Supreme Court ultimately found that the trial court ‘committed clear error in concluding that the State’s peremptory strike of black prospective juror Carolyn Wright was not motivated in substantial part by discriminatory intent.’
In this case, the prosecutor has improperly injected race into a trial, as Mr. Parker argues. This would tend to ‘undermine [the courts’] strong commitment to rooting out bias, no matter how subtle, indirect or veiled.’
As Patty Lopez, a former California Assemblymember noted in her letter to US Judge Dean Pregerson in January, in support of the writ of habeas corpus, the trial judge on the record stated he was ‘troubled’ with this case and ‘not happy with the way the [prosecutors] handled this case.’’
Obie Anthony, another exoneree, told the Vanguard, ‘In any case prosecutorial misconduct is egregious and in my opinion bad acting prosecutor should be held accountable, and where there are echoes of misconduct, one should want to take a look, such is the Anand Alexander case.’
There are a lot of problems with the case of Anand Jon Alexander, but appeals to racial and religious prejudice were clear and overt during his trial and need to be rectified during the post-conviction process.
—David M. Greenwald reporting
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