A prosecutor removed me from jury service for questionable reasons. Could it have been because of the color of my skin?

Warren King, who was sentenced to die for murdering a convenience store clerk, Karen Crosby.

Credit: Ga. Dept. of Corrections

Credit: Ga. Dept. of Corrections

Warren King, who was sentenced to die for murdering a convenience store clerk, Karen Crosby.

The Supreme Court this week will consider a death penalty case in which I was called to jury service.

I was born in 1949 and have spent nearly all of my life in Appling County, Ga., where I’ve raised my family and worked as a nurse for decades. Growing up as a Black girl in the Jim Crow era and entering adulthood during a time of great social change, I learned to cherish our American system of justice and the Constitution that endows all of us with equal rights.

Throughout my life, I experienced racism in many forms. Yet I have also seen great progress, in part because of more robust enforcement of our constitutional rights.

In September 1998, when I was called to jury service in Appling County, I was prepared to serve my community and exercise my rights as a citizen. When I arrived at the courthouse, I learned it was for a capital murder trial. Warren King, a young Black man, faced a potential death sentence for robbery and the homicide of a White convenience store clerk.

The judge and lawyers briefly questioned me, mostly about my knowledge of the case (I had almost none) and my views about the death penalty (I said I could impose it). A few days later, I learned I had not been chosen to serve, but I was never told why. I returned to my daily life, but I wondered what would become of the case.

My understanding of the case now is that King, recruited by his older cousin, Walter Smith, tried to rob a convenience store. A store clerk, Karen Crosby, was killed in the robbery. King and his cousin both claimed the other shot Crosby, but Smith testified against King and ultimately was allowed to plead guilty and got a life sentence. King, who was 18 at the time of the crime, was convicted and sentenced to death.

Years later, I was surprised to learn that the prosecutor, John Johnson, had kept me off Warren King’s jury based on a questionable reason. After the defense alleged that Johnson had used his peremptory strikes to discriminate against Black and female potential jurors, Johnson justified striking me by claiming I would be biased against his office because one of my husband’s relatives supposedly faced aggravated assault charges Johnson was prosecuting. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

The relative named by Johnson was my husband’s distant cousin, whom I did not know well. I saw him at church on occasion, but we were not close. I did not know anything about his possible criminal involvement or legal trouble. Certainly nothing going on with him would have had any bearing on my verdict in King’s case. Plus, it’s hard for me to believe he was ever charged with an aggravated assault – I have never known my husband’s cousin to be violent. To my knowledge, he was never tried or convicted of such a crime. The prosecutor would have learned all of this had he asked me about it.

I have since learned that Johnson, who resigned in 2021 and had long faced allegations of misconduct, gave questionable reasons for removing other Black prospective jurors in Mr. King’s case, and that he struck nearly all Black people from the jury -- seven of eight. Only three of 34 potential White jurors were dismissed by the prosecution. It is hurtful to think that the prosecutor, who represents the state of Georgia, kept us from serving on the jury in a death penalty case because of the color of our skin -- in direct violation of the Supreme Court’s 1986 decision in Batson v. Kentucky that it is unconstitutional to strike jurors in a criminal trial because of their race.

I have been called to serve on other juries, and I have fulfilled my civic duty by serving on some of them. This does not lessen the pain of realizing I was kept off King’s jury because of my race. I have been a fair juror when I have served, and I would have been a fair juror if I had served on King’s case.

I am deeply troubled that King faces execution following a trial marked by such blatant racial discrimination. I can’t know what verdict I would have reached in the case, but I do know that justice was not served by the prosecutor’s efforts to remove Black people from the jury.

Given everything we now know, it seems unconscionable to allow this death sentence to stand.

Patricia McTier is a home health nurse in Appling County, Georgia.