- Associated Press - Thursday, December 14, 2017

CHICAGO (AP) - The Latest on examination by judges of possible racial bias in federal drug stash-house stings (all times local):

2 p.m.

Competing interpretations of statistics are proving key in a first-of-its-kind hearing in Chicago to determine if phony federal stash-house stings are racially biased.

Many of the African-American and Hispanic suspects listening to evidence could go free if the nine federal judges hearing testimony Thursday rule that discrimination underpinned the operations.

The stings typically involve agents posing as cartel couriers who talk suspects into agreeing to steal drugs that don’t exist from fictitious stash houses.

Defense expert Jeffrey Fagan testified first. He said statistics prove racial bias.

But at least one judge, Robert Gettleman, sounded skeptical as to whether statistics alone could decide the issue. He alluded to Mark Twain’s quip that there are three kinds of lies: “Lies, damned, lies and statistics.”

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9:30 a.m.

An unprecedented panel of nine federal trial judges has begun hearing evidence in Chicago on whether phony stash-house stings are racially biased.

The first witness to take the stand Thursday is a law enforcement expert for the defense who is expected to testify about his conclusion that data supports the claim that the stings discriminate against blacks.

Lawyers and U.S. prosecutors fill several rows of seat, and dozens of defendants in charged in stash-house cases are sitting in the jury box. If the judge do conclude bias led to their arrests, those men could go free.

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12:02 a.m.

The question of whether federal agents display racial bias by staging phony drug stash-house stings overwhelmingly in black neighborhoods is the focus of landmark hearings in Chicago.

A first-of-its-kind panel of federal trial judges begins two days of hearings Thursday on the stings. The operations typically involve agents posing as Mexican cartel couriers who talk suspects into agreeing to rob caches of drugs that don’t actually exist.

The nine panelists each presides over a dozen separate stash-house cases. They decided to hear evidence simultaneously on the question after defense lawyers in the 12 cases all moved for the indictments to be tossed on grounds of racial bias.

How each judge rules in coming weeks could lead agencies nationwide to curtail their reliance on such stings.

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