Yesterday, a unique group of former prosecutors, a former judge, and a civil rights attorney filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of Johnny Lee Gates, whose 1977 murder conviction has been called into question by new evidence of systematic race discrimination. The group, which includes former United States Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson, former Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Leah Sears, and former Congressman Bob Barr, argues that the evidence of discrimination is overwhelming and that it “must be fully examined on the merits and not swept away as the State desires.”
As former prosecutors, a former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Georgia, and a former President of the Georgia State Conference of the NAACP, the signers are dedicated to advancing a fair justice system. The conduct presented in Mr. Gates’s case, they write, “is anathema to that goal.” In addition, they argue that the Court should reject the State’s attempt to prevent Mr. Gates from presenting the new evidence based on procedural grounds. “The State engaged in systemic racial discrimination, hid the evidence for four decades, and now that this Court has forced that evidence into the open, the State seeks to avoid its examination. The Court should not allow the State to do so.”
Mr. Gates is represented by the Southern Center for Human Rights (SCHR) and the Georgia Innocence Project (GIP), who, last month, filed a supplement to a motion for a new trial, after newly discovered evidence clearly established that the prosecutors’ jury strikes in Gates’s case were the product of systematic race discrimination. In February, the Superior Court of Muscogee County ordered the State to disclose the prosecutors’ jury selection notes from Gates’s trial, as well as from other capital trials involving black defendants in Muscogee County in the late 1970s. On March 2, the State produced its jury notes.
The notes in every case, including Mr. Gates’s, reveal a deliberate effort to keep black citizens off the jury.
The newly-obtained notes leave no doubt that the strikes were racially motivated with the goal of obtaining all-white juries:
- The prosecutors labeled white prospective jurors as “W” and black prospective jurors as “N.”
- The prosecutors further singled out black prospective jurors for strikes by marking a dot next to the black prospective jurors’ names.
- The prosecutors described black prospective jurors in derogatory terms, including “slow,” “old + ignorant,” “con artist,” “hostile,” and “fat.”
- One white prospective juror was described as a “top juror” because he “has to deal with 150 to 200 of these people that work for his construction co.”