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Innocent Until Proven Dead: Will Texas Execute Another Innocent Man?

28-year-old Reginald Blanton is scheduled to die on October 27th despite serious doubts about his guilt. Does Gov. Rick Perry want more innocent blood on his hands?

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In Reggie's case, no murder weapon was ever found, and there were no eyewitness accounts, so the prosecution found a complete stranger to testify that Blanton had bragged to him about the murder. For his part in sending Reggie to the death chamber, the snitch received a one-year, time-served deal for a number of felony cases pending in several counties and states.

The fact that things like this remain legal stands as further evidence that the so-called justice system in this country isn't interested in putting the right person behind bars -- just in putting someone behind bars.

With the three coerced statements in hand, prosecutors made their case that Blanton had not only killed Garza, that he'd done so while robbing him of jewelry, making the charge capital murder, punishable by death.

When Reggie testified that the jewelry he supposedly stole from Carlos was, in fact, his, the prosecution scoffed. When a mutual friend, Ronald Marshall, produced photographs of Reggie wearing the jewelry two-and-a-half months prior to Carlos' death, the prosecution's story changed: Carlos lent the jewelry to Reggie, but Reggie gave it back to Carlos, and then went back and stole it.

The prosecutors never explained why Reggie would go through the trouble of killing his good friend in order to take jewelry he had been lent weeks before. But they didn't need to -- Reggie was sitting at that table, so he must be the guy who did it.

The Texas Shuffle

Prosecutors do not like Black people on juries. As recently as 1986, it was legal to strike potential jurors simply for being Black. The U.S. Supreme Court stepped in and tried to change that, but prosecutors still have tactics to keep African Americans off juries, and in Reggie's case, they pulled out all the stops.

First, when they saw too many Blacks in the front of the jury pool, they requested (and were granted) three "jury shuffles." This maneuver is an obscure rule that only exists in Texas. Basically, it allows lawyers on both sides an unchecked pass to judge prospective jurors primarily based on their skin color or gender.

Despite the legal status of the jury shuffle in Texas, there have been cases where it was ruled discriminatory by federal courts. In June 2006, for instance, the high court cited the jury shuffle as one of the discriminatory tools used by prosecutors in a 19-year-old Dallas County death penalty case it overturned. Even in Blanton's case, the federal courts agreed that the shuffle was unacceptable discrimination -- but shockingly, did nothing to fix the situation.

The three shuffles by prosecutors successfully moved most of the African Americans to the back of the line, making them unlikely even to be interviewed to serve since a jury is usually found before complete panel is interviewed. In this case, jury selection did make it to the Blacks in the pool. But the prosecutor found excuses, supposedly having nothing to do with race, to strike all of them. The courts went along with this as well, and as a result, there was not a single African American on Reggie's jury.

With their African American-free jury set, prosecutors argued their case with the only evidence they had: coerced statements from Robert, LaToya and the jailhouse snitch, and testimony that Reggie had pawned some jewelry for about $80 shortly after Carlos's death (some of which he was wearing in those photographs the prosecutors were stunned to be presented with).

Even with this thin evidence, the jury found Reggie guilty and sentenced him to death. In reality, Reggie never had a chance. He couldn't depend on the lawyers that the rich and middle class retain. His only hope, like the hopes of other poor people, lay with often-incompetent appointed counsel or over-worked public defenders.