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Appeals court reinstates assault conviction

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Kerry Dean Benally had his assault conviction overturned after a juror said racial bias had led to a guilty verdict.

But the Ute Mountain tribe member who was found guilty last year of assaulting a Bureau of Indian Affairs officer will not get a new trial and will have his conviction reinstated, a federal appellate court ruled Wednesday.

Benally's conviction was tossed when a juror came forward with allegations of racial bias. The jury foreman, according to the juror, said he used to live near a reservation and said that "when Indians get alcohol, they all get drunk." Other jurors then backed the foreman, and the verdict became a way to "send a message back to the reservation," according to court documents.

Although a lower court decided to overturn the conviction, the claims of racial bias were not enough to warrant a new trial, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver decided.

Federal laws prevent jurors from testifying about jury deliberations, which "insulates the deliberations of the jury from subsequent second-guessing by the judiciary," the court wrote in its decision.

"Jury decision-making is designed to be a black box."

A sentencing hearing will now be set for Benally's original conviction.

Aaron Falk