WASHINGTON (AA) - America’s highest court has ruled in favor of a black death row inmate who argued that prosecutors deliberately excluded blacks from an all-white jury that convicted him nearly two decades ago.
The 7-1 decision found that prosecutors unfairly used race to select the jury that found Timothy Tyrone Foster guilty for the murder of an elderly white woman in 1987.
The decision, issued Monday, reverses a ruling by the Georgia Supreme Court that said Foster had not proved racial discrimination contributed to the jury selection process.
All of the prospective black jurors were dismissed during the jury selection process, compared to 16 percent of their white counterparts.
Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts said Georgia’s earlier ruling was “clearly erroneous”.
One year prior to Foster’s trial, the Supreme Court ruled that lawyers could not use “peremptory strikes,” or juror dismissals without cause, if they showed a racial pattern.
Prosecutors notes from Foster’s trial, however, show that prospective black jurors were all marked with a "B" next to their names, and their race was circled. They were at the top of a list marked "Definite NOs". Five of the six names on that list were of black jurors.
Their names were also highlighted in green, which when cross-referenced with a legend indicated that the highlighting "represents Blacks".
The notes were obtained by Foster's lawyers under Georgia's open records law.
"The focus on race in the prosecution’s file plainly demonstrates a concerted effort to keep black prospective jurors off the jury," Roberts wrote.
Justice Clarence Thomas, the sole black justice on the court, disagreed with the majority, saying that the evidence was not strong enough to overturn Foster’s conviction.
"It was the trial court that observed the veniremen firsthand and heard them answer the prosecution’s questions, and its evaluation of the prosecution’s credibility on this point is certainly far better than this Court’s nearly 30 years later," he wrote, using a term for jury selection.
Foster will now face a retrial.