Does a defendant in a criminal trial have a right to know if jury members are frightened of him or fellow gang members?

That’s the question up for debate in today’s scheduled hearing at the N.C. Court of Appeals, titled State v. Rashawn Mackey, out of Mecklenburg County.

Mackey, of Charlotte, was convicted last February of first-degree murder and sentenced to life without parole. Evidence suggested that Mackey shot the victim in the head after a botched robbery in early 2012. Mackey was 18 at the time of the killing.

During the two-week trial, one of the state’s witnesses, a jailhouse informant, claimed that Mackey was in the Bloods gang; that he’d ordered threats against state witnesses; and that he’d arranged for the courtroom to be full of gang members during the trial.

On the final day of the trial, the deliberating jury members wrote a note, presumably intended for Judge Richard D. Boner, asking if they should be concerned for their safety. Acknowledging the number of people in the courtroom, the note said, “Please do not bring this up in court.”

Mackey and his trial lawyer were never informed of the note; Judge Boner didn’t refer to it on the record, nor did he question the jurors about it, according to Mackey’s appeal lawyer.

Mackey argues that the note is evidence that jury members were afraid that Mackey or Bloods gang members could kill them. Mackey was denied an impartial trial, because jury members, who are supposed to rule dispassionately, were prejudiced by their fear, according to Mackey’s lawyer.

The state counters that Mackey’s rights were not violated, because the substance of the note was unrelated to evidence, guilt or innocence. The state also contends that it is virtually impossible to shield jurors from all influences that could theoretically affect their vote.

The case stems back to January 2012, in Charlotte, when 23-year-old Cortney Bonds was discovered inside his car, dead from a gunshot wound to the head. Mackey, who lived nearby, said he’d been smoking a cigarette on his porch when he heard the fatal gunshot in the distance.

During trial, after hearing that the courtroom was potentially filled with gang members, Judge Boner allowed jailhouse informant Raymond Glass to testify. The judge also gave police permission to take pictures of “suspicious persons” in the courtroom.

Glass testified that he and Mackey were housed in the Charlotte jail, but on different floors, and that inmates had pumped toilets in order to speak through the toilets. Glass testified that Mackey told him through the toilet that he’d gotten locked up for a robbery gone bad, and that he had to “slump the dude.”

Glass further testified that Mackey asked him to have some of the state’s witnesses marked for execution, because Glass was an enforcer in the gang, in charge of putting orders out on people.

Mackey denied those claims. He said he was once in the Bloods, but no longer.