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Federal Judge Orders New Trial for Mississippi Man on Death Row Over Jury Discrimination

A federal judge in Mississippi has made the decision to overturn the death penalty conviction of Terry Pitchford, asserting that the trial judge did not provide enough opportunity for Pitchford’s defense to argue that black jurors were being unfairly dismissed from the jury pool due to discriminatory reasons.

Judge’s Ruling and Background

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U.S. District Judge Michael P. Mills rendered the ruling, stating that Terry Pitchford must be granted a new trial on capital murder charges. The judge also cited the history of former District Attorney Doug Evans, accusing him of discriminating against Black jurors in the past.

State’s Intent to Appeal

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Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch’s spokesperson announced the state’s intention to appeal the decision. Despite the ruling, Pitchford remains on death row at Mississippi State Penitentiary.

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Six-Month Deadline for Retrial

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Judge Mills has imposed a six-month deadline for Pitchford’s retrial.

He has also stated that if a new trial is not conducted within this timeframe, Pitchford must be released from custody.

Details of Pitchford’s Case

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Pitchford was charged with murder in connection with the 2004 robbery of Crossroads Grocery, located just outside Grenada, Mississippi.

During the robbery, Pitchford’s friend Eric Bullins fatally shot store owner Reuben Britt.

Pitchford confessed to his involvement, stating that he had fired shots into the floor.

Flawed Jury Selection

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Judge Mills highlighted the critical flaws in the jury selection process for Pitchford’s 2006 trial.

He pointed out that the trial judge did not adequately allow Pitchford’s defense lawyer to challenge the state’s removal of Black jurors.

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Challenging Juror Exclusions

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To demonstrate improper juror exclusions, a defendant must establish that discriminatory intent motivated the removals.

In Pitchford’s case, the jury pool, initially consisting of 61 white and 35 Black members, was reduced to a pool with 36 white and five Black members.

Prosecutors further removed four Black jurors, leaving only one Black juror on the final panel.

Lack of Opportunity for Rebuttal

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Mills asserted that the defense had insufficient opportunity to challenge the state’s justifications for striking Black jurors.

The led to concerns of purposeful discrimination.

Appeal Arguments

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During the appeal, Pitchford’s legal team argued that some reasons for rejecting Black jurors were flimsy.

They also raised the point that the state did not raise similar objections regarding white jurors with comparable issues.

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Influence of Curtis Flowers Case

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Judge Mills acknowledged the impact of another case prosecuted by Doug Evans, involving Curtis Flowers, a Black man tried six times for the shooting deaths of four people.

The U.S. Supreme Court had determined that Evans improperly excluded Black individuals from Flowers’ juries, resulting in the overturning of his conviction and death sentence.

Historical Racial Bias in Jury Selection

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The judge referred to reports that exposed a long history of racial bias in jury selection by District Attorney Doug Evans, emphasizing that this context should have been considered in Pitchford’s appeal.

As the legal battle continues, the decision to grant Terry Pitchford a new trial underscores the importance of fair and non-discriminatory jury selection processes in criminal trials.

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