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Capital Punishment

Death-Row Prisoners Ask Supreme Court to Review Georgia, Oklahoma Verdicts Involving Racist Jurors

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Georgia death-row prisoner Keith Tharpe (pictured, above left) and Oklahoma death-row prisoner Julius Jones (pictured, above right) are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to grant them new trials after evidence showed that white jurors who described the defendants with racist slurs participated in deciding their cases. The involvement of the racist jurors, the prisoners say, violated their Sixth Amendment rights to impartial juries. A juror in Tharpe’s trial gave a sworn affidavit years after voting to convict Tharpe, in which he wondered “if black people even have souls,” and said, “there are two types of black people: 1. Black folks and 2. N***rs.” Tharpe, he wrote, “wasn’t in the ‘good’ black folks category in my book, should get the electric chair for what he did.” In Jones’s case, a juror told Jones’s legal team that another juror had said the trial was “a waste of time” and “they should just take the n***r out and shoot him behind the jail.”

Tharpe and Jones argue that two 2017 Supreme Court decisions, Peña-Rodriguez v. Colorado and Buck v. Davis, require the Court to reconsider their cases. In Buck, Chief Justice John Roberts declared for the Court that “the law punishes people for what they do, not who they are,” and overturned a death sentence imposed after a psychologist testified that Buck posed a greater risk of future dangerousness because he is black. The Chief Justice wrote that “discrimination on the basis of race, odious in all aspects, is especially pernicious in the administration of justice,” calling racism a “toxin[ that] can be deadly in small doses.” In Peña-Rodriguez, now-retired Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for a five-justice majority of the Court that courts may consider a juror’s statement showing he had relied on racial stereotypes to convict a defendant as evidence of a Sixth Amendment violation.

In January 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a federal appeals court’s refusal to consider Tharpe’s racial discrimination claim.  Less than three months later, that court again refused to consider the issue, saying Tharpe had not previously presented it to the state courts. Jones has also repeatedly sought review of claims that racial discrimination has infected his case. He previously asked the Court to overturn his death sentence based on the findings of a 2017 study that showed significant racial disparities in Oklahoma’s death sentencing practices. On January 22, 2019, after having rescheduled consideration of Jones’s appeal 25 times, the Court declined to review the case. Samuel Spital, who was co-counsel in Buck’s case and is lead counsel on the brief of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund’s friend-of-the-court brief supporting Tharpe, said of Tharpe and Jones, “We know that these two men are facing execution at least in part because they’re black. Under those circumstances, the state just doesn’t have an interest in enforcing a death sentence, and for that reason, the procedural obstacles that you would have with respect to certain other claims should not be part of the analysis.” The cases are considered a bellwether of the post-Kennedy Court’s commitment to racial justice. [Death Penalty Information Center]

This post will be updated when new information is available. Due to executions and the appeals process surrounding them, information can rapidly change.

Execution Alert

James Byrd Jr. Killing: Texas Set To Execute John William King For Brutal 1998 Dragging Death, Barring Execution Stay

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UPDATE: John William King has filed a petition for certiorari at the US Supreme Court, seeking a stay of execution in his death penalty case. Read the petition filed at the US Supreme Court below:

The dragging death of James Byrd Jr. was one of the most gruesome hate crimes in recent memory; rightfully referred to as a “modern-day lynching.” Picked up by the side of the road by three white men in the early morning hours of June 7, 1998, the 49-year-old black man was beaten and his face spray-painted; a logging chain was then tied around his ankles. He was dragged behind a pickup truck for almost 3 miles before parts of his body were displayed in front of a church outside Jasper, Texas.


Now, one of the three men involved in Byrd’s killing, John William King, is set to be executed on Wednesday, barring a last-minute stay of execution, CNN reports. If the death penalty is carried out, King will be the second person Texas has executed in Byrd’s death: Lawrence Russell Brewer died by lethal injection in 2011. The third participant, Shawn Allen Berry, was sentenced to life in prison after cooperating with the investigation.

But Byrd’s own relatives have spoken out against executing their loved one’s killers, according to earlier CNN reports:

Byrd’s sister, Betty Boatner, told CNN in 2011, after Brewer’s execution, that she “forgave him 13 years ago.” His son, Ross, joined protests decrying Brewer’s execution, saying, “You can’t fight murder with murder.” Ross’ sister, Renee Mullins, said after Brewer’s execution that she preferred a life sentence for her dad’s killer.

“I don’t feel justice was served,” she told CNN. “Lawrence Brewer was just given an option to take some drugs in his arm and go to sleep. My father wasn’t given that option. He was brutally tortured for 3 miles, until he was dismembered.”

King, a white supremacist whose history of racism is well-documented, has maintained his innocence, repeatedly appealing his guilty verdict. But cigarette butts found at the scene of Byrd’s beating contained King’s DNA; police also found lighters engraved with the words “KKK” and “Possum.”

“Possum” was King’s nickname.

There has been no dispute about King’s belief in white supremacy. From CNN:

Though the motive was never specifically outlined, race was a theme in King’s trial. Prosecutors presented evidence that King had been an “exalted cyclops” of the white supremacist Confederate Knights of America and regularly drew lynching scenes.

His tattoos included a burning cross, the double lightning bolt insignia of Adolf Hitler’s paramilitary Schutzstaffel, a robed Ku Klux Klansman, a swastika, the words “Aryan Pride” and a black man hanging from a tree.

Gang experts testified King was recruiting others to his cause — an all-out race war — and that leaving Byrd’s body in front of the church, rather than obscuring it, “demonstrated that the crime was meant to spread terror.”

A note presented at King’s trial intended for Brewer, who was in the jail at the time, showed he had no remorse about his role in Byrd’s brutal murder.

“Seriously, though, Bro, regardless of the outcome of this, we have made history and shall die proudly remembered if need be,” King wrote.

He signed off: “Much Aryan love…Possum.”

King’s execution is scheduled for Wednesday at 7 pm ET at Texas State Penitentiary at Huntsville. According to the Associated Press, King will be the third person executed in the state of Texas this year.

(Reporting by The Root)

This post will be updated when new information is available.

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Capital Punishment

State of Arkansas Faces New Fight Over Sedative For Executions

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — A federal lawsuit filed by death row inmates is renewing a court fight over a sedative Arkansas uses for lethal injections, two years after the state raced to put eight convicted killers to death before a batch of the drug expired.


The federal trial that begins Tuesday could impact Arkansas’ efforts to restart executions, which had been on hold due to a lack of lethal injection drugs. It’ll also be the latest in a series of legal battles over midazolam, a sedative that other states have moved away from amid claims it doesn’t render inmates fully unconscious during lethal injections.

Arkansas executed four inmates in 2017, after four others were halted by the courts. The trial is expected to revisit two of those executions that inmates’ attorneys say were problematic.

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Capital Punishment

Alabama Seeks New Execution Date For Death Row Inmate Spared By The Clock

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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama is seeking a new execution date for an inmate who was spared last week when the clock struck midnight before a divided U.S. Supreme Court said the lethal injection could proceed.


The state on Monday asked the Alabama Supreme Court to schedule an execution for 46-year-old Christopher Lee Price.

A federal judge postponed Price’s lethal injection last week. The high court overturned the stay, but the decision came about two hours after the warrant scheduling his execution automatically expired at midnight.

The state asked the court to set an execution on April 25 or May 2 in the “interests of justice” and set aside a rule requiring 30 days’ notice.

Price was convicted in the 1991 stabbing death of pastor Bill Lynn.

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