A tale of two cities and two juries

Mark Rabil, co-director of the law school’s Innocence and Justice Clinic, had the following guest column run in the Winston-Salem Journal on June 1, 2011.

Winston-Salem and Statesville are only 45 miles apart. Yet in two trials last year, they seemed a century apart.

In Statesville, an all-white jury sentenced Andrew Ramseur, a 19-year-old black kid, to death for the shooting of two white people in a store. In Winston-Salem, a jury of eight whites and four blacks sentenced Tim Hartford, a 40-year-old white man, to death for the shooting of two white victims — one of them a “Meals on Wheels” volunteer.

The prosecutors in Statesville kicked all the qualified black people off the jury. Our district attorney did not. The results — death verdicts — were the same in both cities. The problem is that we still, more than 145 years after the end of the Civil War, have all-white capital juries anywhere in this state. It is not good enough that we had a mixed jury in one case in one town. To paraphrase Martin Luther King Jr., as long as there is jury injustice anywhere in our state, there is a threat to justice everywhere in our state.

All citizens have the constitutional right to serve on a jury, regardless of race. In capital cases, in which prosecutors seek the death penalty because of possible aggravating factors, only citizens who can consider voting for the death penalty are allowed on the jury. Once they pass that test, the attorneys for each side can excuse people for any reason other than an illegal reason. Neither side can kick a person off a jury because of race.

Read the full story here.