A motion filed on behalf of Johnny Lee Gates (inset) contends that potential jurors in his 1977 murder trial in Columbus were struck because they were black. Prosecutors’ notes from that jury selection show that all four names with an “N” beside them were struck. A “W” beside other names denotes a white potential juror. The numbers at left follow a 1-5 scale with 1 least desirable and 5 most favored by prosecutors. (Muscogee County District Attorney’s Office)
Photo: Muscogee County DA
Photo: Muscogee County DA

Motion: State purposely excluded black jurors in 7 death penalty cases

In an unpleasant echo of Georgia’s racist past, prosecutors in Columbus systematically excluded black people from the jury pools in seven death penalty trials of black defendants in the 1970s, according to a court motion filed Monday.

Prosecutors made handwritten notes describing prospective African-American jurors as “slow,” “ignorant,” “con man” and “fat,” the filing said. In addition, it said, they marked black people on jury lists as either “B” or “N” and ranked them as the least desirable people to empanel.

“Every person accused of a criminal offense has the right to a fair trial that’s free of race discrimination,” said Patrick Mulvaney, a lawyer with the Southern Center for Human Rights and a member of the legal team that filed Monday’s action.

Three of the people tried in those cases were later executed. In five of the trials, 27 of 27 prospective black jurors were excluded, and all-white juries heard the cases.

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