Bernie Roddy, "Texas' 5th Circuit Intent on Allowing Racist Capital Punishment"

Bernie Roddy writes:

Texas' 5th Circuit Intent on Allowing Racist Capital Punishment

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in Texas has been battling the Supreme Court over whether racism accounts for various questionable practices in capital cases.

In the case of Thomas Miller-El, 53, ten of the eleven qualified black candidates for the jury were excluded from the jury pool. The only black admitted volunteered that in his opinion simple execution was not sufficient punishment for people who commit murder, that we should “pour some honey on them and stake them out over an ant bed.” One of the three prosecutors in Miller-El’s case was found by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to have engaged in intentional racial discrimination in the jury selection of a black man sentenced to death, Ronald Curtis Chambers.

On Feb. 25, 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled eight to one in favor of Miller-El. Nevertheless, the 5th Circuit fixated on the lone dissenter in the Supreme Court decision, that of Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, and denied Miller-El’s claim.

More recently, Tyrone Williams was one of fourteen indicted in the deaths of seventeen immigrants in a truck near Victoria, TX. U.S. District Judge Vanessa Gilmore required that prosecutors show why of the fourteen eligible for the death penalty (twelve Hispanics and two African-Americans) they had selected only one of the black defendants. When she submitted her request in writing to Attorney General Ashcroft she was accused of trying to punish the prosecutors.

Predictably, Gilmore was overruled by the 5th Circuit. Her concern about the racial biases of prosecutors in Texas will likely be shared by the U.S. Supreme Court, but whether the highest court’s decisions have a serious impact on the conduct of the 5th Circuit is yet to be determined.