High Court Will Look at Race in Jury Selection

Published February 11, 2008

Posted Dec. 3, 2007 –This week the U.S. Supreme Court will look at whether a Louisiana man’s death sentence is constitutional, given the prosecutor’s suggestion to the jury that frying a Black man convicted of killing his ex-wife was payback for O.J. Simpson getting off.

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The suit was filed by death-row inmate Allen Snyder, a Jefferson Parish, La., resident who in the summer of 1995 repeatedly stabbed Howard Wilson, who he found in bed with his estranged wife. He contends that the Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office’s first step in making the O.J. ploy work was to ensure that prosecutors seated a jury of only Whites, who were likely to be still bitter over the Simpson acquittal.

In two separate decisions – in 1986 and then six years later – the high court ruled first that prosecutors and then that defense attorneys could not use race as the motive for nixing prospective jurors.

It appears that Snyder has a basis for his concerns.

In a 2003 report, the Louisiana Crisis Assistance Center found that “prosecutors from Jefferson Parish,” the largely White New Orleans suburb that sent Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke to the Louisiana House of Representatives in 1989, “strikes African-American prospective jurors at more than three times the rate at which they strike White prospective jurors.”

Also adding fuel to Snyder’s case is the fact that shortly after he was arrested, Jefferson Parish Assistant District Attorney James Williams to local media, “It looks like I have my O.J. Simpson case!” No matter how hard Snyder’s attorneys tried, they couldn’t get the Jefferson Parish judge to bar the D.A.’s office from making the O.J. link. Prosecutors later vowed not to mention Simpson again.

Of the 85 potential jurors questioned in Jefferson – where one in five people were Black – four of the Black candidates were dismissed for cause, and Williams used his preemptory challenges to get rid of the other five, the Chicago Tribune reports. As promised, he never again bought up O.J. during the trial. But what he did say was that Snyder’s case was “"very, very" similar to "the most famous murder case, and all of you have heard about it." He continued, "perpetrator in that case claimed that he was going to kill himself as he drove in a Ford Bronco and kept the police off of him. And you know what? He got away with it." Just over two hours later, the all-White jury called for Snyder’s death.

Did the prosecutor do anything wrong? Who should win this case? Click "Discuss Now" to post your comment.

Written by BET-Staff

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