In violation of Willie Manning’s constitutional rights, the prosecutor at his trial, aided by the judge, unfairly excluded several African Americans from the jury. Four Mississippi Supreme Court judges were later to recognize this as “a clear pattern suggesting pretextual reasons”.[i] The prosecutor’s purpose must surely have been to increase the proportion of white jurors considering the case.
Earlier this year we learnt that the same tactic has been widely used in central Mississippi, despite a US Supreme Court ruling against excluding potential jurors for reasons of race or gender. A study focusing on prosecutor Doug Evans’ office from 1981 to 2014 found that prosecutors were 4.4 times more likely to strike black jurors than white jurors.
More recently, in another part of the USA, a study on the significance of race, gender and class in the administration of capital punishment was sufficiently powerful to lead to the abolition of the death penalty there. The state was Washington State, and the study examined the verdicts at death penalty trials. One of its conclusions is as shocking as the Mississippi findings:
“Black defendants were between 3.5 and 4.6 times as likely to result in a death sentence as proceedings involving non-Black defendants.”
The Washington Supreme Court considered this report and the state’s legal record. Its conclusion was logical:
“The death penalty is invalid because it is imposed in an arbitrary and racially biased manner.”
Two states, similar bias – but in Mississippi the death penalty persists. And, as Willie’s April 2013 motion points out, the impact of racist bias in jury selection extends beyond the defendants:
“Such discrimination violates not just Manning’s rights but the rights of the jurors themselves, and it casts a long shadow over the integrity of this State.”[ii]
There is no justification for this. Mississippi should follow the example of Washington State. The death penalty, underpinned as it is by racism, should finally end.
[i] Willie Jerome Manning a/k/a Fly v. State of Mississippi. 2013-DR-00491-SCT. Order. King, Justice, objecting to the order with separate written statement. Supreme Court of Mississippi. April 25, 2013. Page 18 ¶ 26. State of Mississippi Judiciary. Web, September 5, 2017.
[ii] Willie Manning v. State of Mississippi, 2013-DR-00491-SCT. Motion for Rehearing. Filed in the Supreme Court of Mississippi. April 26, 2013. Page 6 (page 7 of pdf). State of Mississippi Judiciary. Web, November 3, 2018.