On March 19, a court order revealed an intentional exclusion of black jurors during seven death-penalty cases against black defendants during the 1970s. The order revealed handwritten notes that crossed off the names of black jurors, labeled white prospective jurors with a ‘W’ and black prospective jurors with an ’N,’ continuously ranked black jurors with a one out of five to show least desirability. Potential black jurors were described by prosecutors as “slow,” ″old + ignorant,” ″cocky,” ″con artist,” ″hostile” and “fat.” The only white juror ranked with a one was vocal about their opposition to the death penalty.
The notes came to surface due to a motion by Johnny Lee Gates, who is currently serving a life sentence for the suspected rape and murder of Katrina Wright in 1976. The motion stipulates that Gate’s trial was unfair due to all prospective black jurors being kept off the jury, and aims to provide reasonable doubt in court rulings that would prompt a new trial to take place.
“When you have this kind of race discrimination infecting a trial from the start, it really undermines the reliability of the proceedings all the way through,” Patrick Mulvaney, a lawyer with the Southern Center for Human Rights who’s representing Gates, told AP News.
Gate’s attorney’s also claim DNA evidence was destroyed and further evidence was taken from the scene.
“Every person accused of a criminal offense has the right to a fair trial that’s free of race discrimination,” Mulvaney told My AJC. “Mr. Gate’s trial was undermined by race discrimination from the start.”
According to the Muscogee County District Attorney’s Office, Gate’s claims are not enough. For Gate’s claims of systemic racism to hold, he must demonstrate an exclusion of black people outside major cases, and “in case after case, whatever the circumstance, whatever the crime and whoever the defendant or victim may be,” the DA’s office told My AJC.
On March 20, Douglas Pullen, who was one of the prosecutors on the case, claimed race played no part in who was chosen to be apart of the jury.
“It didn’t happen,” Pullen told AP. “There’s identifying data on everybody, but it’s just so you can remember and recollect.”
Pullen was involved in several of the death-penalty cases dealing with black defendants who received few to no black jurors on their trials. Amongst the five capital trials for black men between 1975 and 1979, Pullen’s prosecution team struck out all 27 out of 27 potential black jurors.
The motion which brought the notes of prosecutors to the public revealed the seven black men who were tried, how many black jurors were removed by prosecutors, and their current status:
Joseph Mulligan – four out of four potential black jurors removed. He was executed in 1987.
Jerome Bowden – eight out of eight potential black jurors removed. He was executed in 1986.
Johnny Lee Gates – four out of four potential black jurors removed. He is currently serving a life sentence.
Jimmy Lee Graves – four out of four potential black jurors removed. He is currently on parole.
Williams Brooks – four out of four potential black jurors removed. He is currently serving a life sentence.
William Henry Hance – ten out of 13 potential black jurors removed. He was executed in 1994.
William Spicer Lewis – seven out of seven potential black jurors removed. He is currently serving a life sentence.
The hearing for Gates' motion of a new trial is slated to take place May 7.