A Mississippi man has a shot at a new trial after his death penalty conviction was tossed by a district judge. Why? Well, the prosecutor was found to have some sleazy, racist practices that kept Black jurors from the courtroom.
Terry Pitchford, now 37, was charged in the killing of a Grenada County store owner at just 18 years old. Prosecutors claimed in 2004, Pitchford and his friend opened fire inside Crossroads Grocery, and traced the shots back to a gun that was later recovered from Pitchford’s vehicle, per WAPT’s report.
Two years later, Pitchford confessed that he tried to rob the store and admitted to his role in the fatal incident. He was swiftly found guilty and sent to death row.
The report says the state Supreme Court upheld his conviction in 2010 but it wasn’t until now that someone realized something fishy was going on with the trial.
Pitchford’s attorneys didn’t have the proper chance to challenge the state in their decision to strike Black jurors from the jury pool, the report says. U.S. District Judge Michael P. Mills said former District Attorney Doug Evans had a history of sifting the Black jurors away from the pool, anyway.
Read more from the ruling:
The Court now briefly addresses the Curtis Flowers case history, and Pitchford’s reliance on it. In 1996, Curtis Flowers allegedly murdered four people in Winona, Mississippi. Flowers was tried six separate times before a jury for murder; and each of those times, he was prosecuted by District Attorney Doug Evans, the same prosecutor in Pitchford’s case. Flowers was convicted in each of the first three trials, but the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed each conviction.
Those convictions were reversed for the following reasons: the first due to “numerous instances of prosecutorial misconduct”; the second for prosecutorial misconduct (of note, the trial court found a Batson violation when the prosecutor struck a black juror and seated that juror); and third, because the prosecutor had discriminated against black prospective jurors during jury selection in contravention of Batson.
The AP’s report says in Pitchford’s case, the jury pool of 61 white people and 35 Black people came down to 36 white people and just five Black people—many of them striked for objecting to Pitchford receiving the death penalty.
Judge Mills said the state has six months to retry him or else he must be released from custody. Until then, Pitchford remains on death row.