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US Top Court Overturns Death Sentence from All-White Jury

Timothy Tyrone Foster is shown in this undated photo made available by the Georgia Department of Corrections.

The U.S. Supreme Court has overturned a death sentence imposed on an African-American prison inmate by an all-white jury, after finding that state prosecutors improperly kept blacks off the jury.

The high court ruled 7-1 in favor of Georgia death row inmate Timothy Foster, with Justice Clarence Thomas the lone dissenter.

The decision, which comes 30 years after Foster's death penalty conviction for murder, highlights the continuing effects of racism on jury selection.

Lawyers for Foster said prosecutors at the time maneuvered to exclude blacks from the jury pool, presenting the court with a note from prosecutors that showed the letter 'B' handwritten by the name of prospective black jurors.

Another handwritten note entered into evidence had the heading "Definite No's," and listed six people — five black jurors and a white woman who said she opposed the death penalty.

The six were rejected from the jury pool in a process that allows prosecutors to block a certain number of jurors.

In writing his opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts said the Georgia "prosecutors were motivated in substantial part by race. The focus on race in the prosecution’s file plainly demonstrates a concerted effort to keep black prospective jurors off the jury."

Foster was convicted in the 1986 murder of an elderly white woman. During the original trial, his lawyers did not contest his guilt, but explained his actions as the result of drug abuse, mental illness and a troubled childhood.

Some information for this report came from AFP.