Lawyers for a death row inmate in Texas André Thomas asked the US Supreme Court to overturn his death sentence, arguing that racist jurors deprived the black man of a fair trial in 2005.
An all-white jury in Sherman, about 65 miles north of Dallas, found Thomas guilty of murdering his ex-wife, who was white, their 4-year-old son and his one-year-old daughter.
Three jurors, however, admitted on pre-trial questionnaires that they oppose interracial marriage and Métis children, marring their deliberations with a bias that undermined the death penalty they handed down, did assert Thomas’s lawyers.
“Far from the 12 impartial and unbiased jurors required by a clearly established law, Thomas was found guilty and sentenced to death by several jurors who harbored (…) racial prejudices directly implicated by the facts of this case,” said his lawyers at the Supreme Court in a petition filed Monday evening.
At the time of the murders, Thomas – who suffers from severe schizophrenia – was responding to voices telling him to kill his wife and two children, court records show. Thomas confessed to Sherman’s police, and five days after the fatal stab wounds he gouged out his right eye after reading a Bible passage about grubbing an offensive eye. He then tore out his left eye and ate it.
In their petition asking the Supreme Court to accept Thomas’ case for review, defense attorneys argued that racial bias prevented jurors from properly assessing evidence of mental illness before sentencing Thomas to die.
“Under these circumstances, a court cannot be confident that 12 jurors unaffected by racial prejudice would have chosen death, rather than life imprisonment, in a case where it was not disputed that Thomas suffered from active psychosis. at the time of the murders, ”Thomas said. lawyers argued.
Defense attorneys also highlighted the 2017 ruling in favor of Texas death row inmate Duane Buck. The Supreme Court ordered a new sentencing trial for Buck because a psychologist testified at his trial that black defendants are generally more dangerous than whites. The introduction of this concept in a death penalty case involving Buck, a black man, was “a particularly harmful strain of racial prejudice,” the court said.
Thomas’s lawyers argue that similar harmful racial biases were revealed in questionnaires completed during the jury selection process:
• Marty Ulmer checked a box in a questionnaire stating: “I strongly oppose people of different racial backgrounds marrying and / or having children and I am not afraid to say so. In a comments section, he added, “I don’t believe God intended this.”
• Charles Copeland checked the option stating: “I oppose marriage and / or the birth of children to people of different racial backgrounds, but I try to keep my feelings to myself.” In a written comment, he added: “I think we should say stay with our Blood Line.”
• Barbara Armstrong, like Copeland, said she was against interracial marriage and children, but kept that opinion to herself. “I think it is harmful for the children concerned because they do not have a specific race to belong to,” she added.
Ulmer and Copeland also said their churches oppose interracial marriage.
Only Ulmer was asked about his answers before the three were added to the Thomas jury. When asked if the color of someone’s skin would affect his deliberations, Ulmer said race wouldn’t matter in his judgment. In addition, Copeland and Armstrong assured that they could make up their minds solely on the basis of the evidence presented in court.
Those responses were enough for the 5th U.S. Court of Appeals, which dismissed Thomas’ challenge in April.
While the United States Supreme Court has stated that jurors cannot be seated if they cannot confront and suppress their racism, “it is not the same as saying that a juror who expressed even strong opposition to interracial marriage cannot be seated in a case involving a defendant who has married someone of a different race if the person indicates an ability to confront and suppress those opinions, ”Judge Leslie Southwick wrote .
Another member of the tribunal’s three-judge panel, Judge Stephen Higginson, disagreed.
“Judging this horrific crime would challenge any juror, but it is constitutionally forbidden for a racially biased juror who ‘vigorously’ (Juror Ulmer) or ‘opposes’ (Copeland and Armstrong jurors) to people of different racial backgrounds marrying and / or having children, ”Higginson wrote.
Prospective jurors who confirm they are racially prejudiced are banned, by Supreme Court precedent, from rendering a “life or death judgment on brutal murders involving interracial marriage and offspring,” he said. he adds.
In their petition, Thomas’s lawyers urged the Supreme Court to adopt Higginson’s line of thinking. They also argued that lawyers in Thomas’ trial deprived him of his constitutional rights by failing to challenge the three jurors as unfit for service on the basis of racial prejudice.
Thomas’s supporters also argue that a serious mental illness prevents him from being executed, although this is an issue to be addressed once the execution date is set.