After his conviction and death sentence were reversed because of the prosecutor’s racial bias, Steven Hall yesterday received a reduced sentence of life without parole.
It is unconstitutional for prosecutors to remove potential jurors from serving on a jury because of their race. At Mr. Hall’s 1993 capital trial, Monroe County prosecutors used nine of their 14 strikes to exclude African Americans from the jury. Mr. Hall’s lawyer objected, but the trial court accepted that the prosecutors had valid “race-neutral” reasons for their strikes. Mr. Hall was convicted and sentenced to death.
On appeal, Mr. Hall argued that the prosecutor’s reasons were merely a pretext for racial bias, especially as to potential juror Minnie Lett. The prosecutor said that he struck Mrs. Lett, a Black woman, because she expressed strong reservations about the death penalty, but the transcript showed that Mrs. Lett actually supported the death penalty. The state appellate courts rejected Mr. Hall’s arguments.
Mr. Hall then challenged his conviction in federal court. Twenty years after his trial, a federal judge agreed with arguments made by the Federal Defender for the Middle District of Alabama and found that prosecutors engaged in illegal racial discrimination during jury selection for Mr. Hall’s trial.
The federal judge found that the prosecution did not provide a valid, race-neutral reason for excluding Mrs. Lett, and actually misrepresented her feelings about the death penalty. The court’s order points to statements Mrs. Lett made in her juror questionnaire and in response to questions during jury selection that indicate her support for the death penalty.
The federal court found that the decisions by the state courts were unreasonable and ordered a new trial for Mr. Hall. Yesterday, prosecutors agreed to a reduced sentence of life-without-parole in exchange for a guilty plea.
Illegal racial discrimination in jury selection is a persistent problem, as people of color continue to be excluded from jury service because of their race, especially in serious criminal trials and death penalty cases.