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HOUSTON — A U.S. Supreme Court decision that warns against bias in death penalty cases is the latest indication that the high court may be losing confidence in Texas, the state that executes more people than any other, legal experts say.
In Monday’s 6-3 decision, the court sided with black murder suspects in Texas and California who said their juries had been unfairly stacked with whites. It was the fourth time in two years that the court has intervened in a Texas death penalty case.
The Supreme Court used the cases to bolster its landmark 1986 decision barring prosecutors from disqualifying potential jurors based on their race. Justice Clarence Thomas, the only black member of the high court, voted against both suspects.
In the Texas case, the court ordered a new trial for Thomas Miller-El, who had been convicted for the 1985 murder of a 25-year-old Dallas motel clerk.
Miller-El contends that Dallas County prosecutors had a long history of excluding blacks from juries and pointed to training manuals that were distributed to prosecutors from the 1960s into the early 1980s. The manuals advised prosecutors to remove blacks or Jews from death penalty juries on the theory that those groups would be more sympathetic to criminal defendants.
At trial, Miller-El was convicted by a 12-member jury that included one black. Prosecutors struck 10 of the 11 blacks eligible to serve.
But in Thomas’ 36-page dissent — longer than Souter’s opinion — he argued that Texas prosecutors had offered enough evidence that exclusions were made for reasons other than race.
“In view of the evidence actually presented to the Texas courts, their conclusion that the state did not discriminate was eminently reasonable,” Thomas wrote in an opinion joined by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justice Antonin Scalia.
(Posted on June 14, 2005)