It was Monday [May 23, 2016] that the United States Supreme Court overturned the 1987 conviction of Timothy Tyrone Foster after finding Georgia prosecutors unlawfully excluded any Black potential jurors which resulted in an all-white jury condemning Foster to his death 30 years ago. It was then that an 18-year old Foster was convicted of killing a white 79-year old schoolteacher, Queen Madge White in Rome, Georgia.
It is reported that during the jury selection process, all four of the only Black potential jurors in the pool were struck or removed for consideration with the prosecution justifying that this was because they “did not make enough eye contact” during questioning and were “bewildered”, “hostile”, “defensive”, “nervous” and “impudent.”
Coincidentally, it was in 1986 that the Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to take race into account when selecting jury members.
According to Chief Justice John Roberts, “prosecutors were motivated in substantial part by race” when they struck African-Americans from the jury pool with a focus on the decision to exclude two Black jurors. Two strikes like these, Roberts says, “on the basis of race are two more than the Constitution allows.”
“This discrimination became apparent only because we obtained the prosecution’s notes which revealed their intent to discriminate,” said Stephen Bright, Foster’s lawyer. “Usually that does not happen. The practice of discriminating in striking juries continues in courtrooms across the country.”
The ruling was a 7-1 majority ruling whose only dissenter was Justice Clarence Thomas, the sole African-American chief justice who was once appointed to take the place of Thurgood Marshall.
This ruling now throws out the Georgia Supreme Court decision to reject Foster’s claim about racial discrimination and prosecutorial misconduct in the jury selection. A state court will now reverse his conviction.