Newly Discovered Prosecutors’ Notes Reveal Blatant Race Discrimination in Capital Jury Selection
Today, the Southern Center for Human Rights and the Georgia Innocence Project filed a supplement to a motion for a new trial in the case of Johnny Gates. In 1977, Gates – a black man – was convicted and sentenced to death by an all-white jury in Columbus, GA. The prosecutors struck all four black prospective jurors from serving on Gates’s jury. Newly discovered evidence clearly establishes 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 of 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.”
“Race discrimination undermines the credibility and reliability of the justice system,” said Patrick Mulvaney, an SCHR attorney representing Mr. Gates. “Mr. Gates is entitled to a new trial that is fair and free of discrimination.”
The prosecutors’ jury strikes of black citizens confirm the discriminatory intent reflected in their notes. There were two prosecutors in Gates’s case: Douglas Pullen and William Smith. In the five capital cases involving black defendants that Pullen tried between 1975 and 1979, the prosecution struck 27 of the 27 black prospective jurors. Smith had a similar strike record. Additionally, in 2016, the United States Supreme Court held in Foster v. Chatman that Pullen and his co-counsel struck black prospective jurors on the basis of race in a capital case out of Rome, Georgia.
Gates has been incarcerated for the past 41 years based on his 1977 trial. Though he initially received the death penalty, he was later resentenced to life in prison without parole.
View images of the jury notes here. Read the pleading here.
Gates is represented by Patrick Mulvaney and Katherine Moss from the Southern Center for Human Rights and Clare Gilbert from the Georgia Innocence Project.