In 1997, Phillip Davis, who was an 18 year old, with a borderline intellectual capacity, entered a guilty plea to two counts of murder. The state sought the death penalty and prepared to pick a jury it could convince that Phillip should die for his crimes.
While seating the jury, the state sought to dismiss the one African American potential juror because she wore a character tee shirt to court, wore cross earrings, and had an estranged brother with pending criminal charges. The one African American was removed from the jury because of her brother’s pending criminal charges, despite the fact that several white jurors were allowed to serve despite indicating that they had close family members with criminal convictions. Davis’s attorney challenged the jury selection process at the time of trial, but the challenge was denied.
North Carolina has a long history of ignoring blatant racial bias in jury selections for capital trials. Ken Rose, attorney with the Durham-based Center for Death Penalty Litigation told the Citizen Times that”…North Carolina appellate courts have not enforced Batson and we’re hoping that’s going to change because the U.S. Supreme Court has issued a series of decisions.” The tide seems to be on the verge of changing in Buncombe County.
Late last month, Buncombe County District Attorney Todd Williams agreed that Davis should have a new sentencing hearing based on what appears to be racial bias in jury selection. The hearing is scheduled for November 14.
Carolina Justice Policy Center has long been an advocate for eliminating racial bias in capital jury selection. The practice of eliminating African Americans from capital juries is one of many reasons we believe the death penalty should end in North Carolina. We are hopeful that this courageous stand against racial bias by Buncombe County District Attorney Todd Williams will help other District Attorneys offices across the state re-evaluate their training and policies around eliminating racial bias.
For more details, read the full Citizen-Times article.