At Willie Manning’s trial, the prosecutor rejected African American jurors time and time again.[i] Prosecutors may not use race as the reason for striking potential jurors, so he gave other reasons (and in some cases several reasons). But the racial bias remained obvious.
Three times the prosecutor objected to African Americans’ statements that they read publications such as Jet and Ebony magazines, which are aimed at African Americans. As four Mississippi Supreme Court judges noted in 2013, “To accept that reason as lacking pretext absolutely strains credulity”. [ii]
Moreover, what the prosecutor rejected for African Americans he often accepted for white people e.g:
-He objected to an African American man reading Time and Newsweek magazines; but he had no problem with white people reading the same publications.
-Three times he cited African Americans’ responses about the death penalty as unacceptable; but he allowed at least two white people who gave very similar responses.
-He objected to an African American woman who did not work because she was disabled; but he consented to white people who were unemployed.
-He rejected an African American man because a family member had been convicted of crime; but he approved white people who were similarly placed.
Some of the prosecutor’s reasons were simply inconsistent with the record e.g. he stated that two black jurors were reluctant to serve on the jury, even though they had voiced no such opinion.
The trial judge contributed to the discrimination. When one potential African American juror was struck without explanation, the judge failed to ask the prosecutor for justification. When another juror was under consideration, the judge improperly interjected on behalf of the prosecutor to suggest an additional –inaccurate – reason to justify a strike (the juror had indicated that he was a hospital worker, whereas the judge suggested that he had no occupation).
And, though the judge promised to allow time for concerns about unfair juror strikes to be raised, he reneged on this promise: the defense counsel was not allowed to address those concerns.
In 2013, four Mississippi Supreme Court judges recognized the state’s tactics for what they were:
“…when viewed as a whole, a clear pattern suggesting pretextual reasons by the prosecution in the use of peremptory strikes appears.”[iii]
Inexplicably, the five other judges remained unpersuaded. We hope that Willie will soon have the chance to raise this issue again, both for his sake and for those of all potential jurors in Mississippi. Justice requires no less.