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With 3 Dissents, Justices Won't Hear Black Inmate Jury Race Bias Case

Three liberal Supreme Court justices dissented from the majority's decision not to review the case of a Black man who accused racially biased jurors of sentencing him to death, reports Courthouse News Service. "By failing to challenge, or even question, jurors who were hostile to interracial marriage in a capital case involving that explosive topic, [Andre] Thomas’ counsel performed well below an objective standard of reasonableness," Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote. Thomas was charged with capital murder in Texas for killing his estranged wife, their child, and his wife's child from a previous relationship in 2005. He removed their hearts because he believed it would “set them free from evil,” and then, after stabbing himself, Thomas turned himself in and confessed. Thomas pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. While awaiting trial, he removed one of his own eyeballs before removing the other years later. Though the state agreed that Thomas was psychotic during his offense, it prevailed in arguing that “his psychosis was voluntarily induced" by ingesting cough medicine before the murders. Thomas was sentenced to death in the nation's leading state for inmate executions.


On appeal, he argued he was denied the right to a fair trial because his fate was decided by an all-white jury, three of whom expressed firm opposition to interracial marriage and procreation in their juror questionnaires. The Supreme Court's majority rejected his case without explanation Tuesday Sotomayor's dissent was joined by Elena Kagan and Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson. The only three justices appointed by Democratic presidents found that "as we have often recognized, seating even one biased juror infringes on a criminal defendant’s Sixth Amendment right. Whether Thomas’ psychological disturbances explain or in any way excuse his commission of murder, however, is beside the point. No jury deciding whether to recommend a death sentence should be tainted by potential racial biases that could infect its deliberations or decision, particularly where the case involved an interracial crime." Because Thomas is Black, his wife was white and their son was biracial, the prospective jurors were asked about their views on people of different racial backgrounds marrying and/or having children. One juror “vigorously oppose[d]” interracial marriage. Two other jurors answered that they too opposed interracial marriage. One explained that it is “harmful for the children involved because they do not have a specific race to belong to," while the other wrote, "I think we should stay with our bloodline."

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