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Louisiana, Oregon To Decide Fate Of Those Convicted By Divided Juries

Updated: Oct 27, 2022

Among the 24,000 Oregon inmates, Eric Russell, Brandon Gillespie and Jacob Watkins are three members of an odd fraternity, Investigate West reports. Each was convicted by a divided jury — a situation that has only been allowed in Oregon and Louisiana. In federal court or in any other state court, a jury that can’t come to a unanimous decision would produce a mistrial. Russell is serving the 10th year of a nearly 17-year sentence related to a string of armed robberies. Gillespie, has 10 years left on a 27-year sentence for armed robbery. Watkins is in the final year of a 12-year sentence for sex crimes with a minor. The U.S. Supreme Court declared split-jury verdicts unconstitutional in 2020, in a case known as Ramos v. Louisiana. Oregon had been allowing split-jury verdicts since 1934, after a Jewish man accused of murder was convicted of a lesser charge because of a single juror holdout. Louisiana put non-unanimous juries in its constitution in 1898, during a convention where the stated purpose was “to establish the supremacy of the white race in the state.”

The Supreme Court ruling left it up to Oregon and Louisiana to figure out what to do with the hundreds of people already in prison for such convictions. On Oct. 21, Louisiana’s Supreme Court ruled against vacating those convictions, leaving the door open for the state legislature to take action. Oregon’s Supreme Court is poised to rule on the issue, in an appeal of Watkins’s conviction that could impact an estimated 250 to 300 other inmates in the state. If the court sides with Watkins, it would provide the path forward that prisoners and their advocates have fought for:: an opportunity to seek new outcomes through the appeals process. Crime victims and their supporters such defendants should not always get another chance. The court could kick the issue back to the state legislature, where a bill that would have allowed prisoners to appeal their non-unanimous convictions died in committee this year. If no branch of the government takes action, hundreds of people will remain behind bars for crimes that at least one juror did not believe they committed.


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