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US Supreme Court overturns black man's death sentence over jury-rigging

Judges have ruled in favor of a black Georgian man who was on death row for murdering an elderly white woman in 1986. Prosecutors had excluded black members from the jury during his trial nearly three decades ago.

The Supreme Court on Monday handed a victory to 48-year-old Timothy Tyrone Foster, who was convicted of killing a 79-year-old retired school teacher, Queen White, in 1986.

Prosecutors could still appeal against the verdict.

Judges, in a 7-1 ruling, reached the conclusion that the state lawyers "were motivated in substantial part by race," leading to the exclusion of black members from the jury. Justice Clarence Thomas, a conservative and the only black member in the court, voted against Monday's decision.

Speaking in Washington, Chief Justice John Roberts said evidence from the trial "plainly belie the state's claim that it exercised its strikes [the removal of a potential juror] in a 'color blind' manner."

Foster was 18 years old when he broke into the house of the elderly Queen White. He broke her jaw, sexually molested and strangled her, before robbing her house.

During Foster's trial nearly 30 years ago, state lawyers refused to include five black members as part of the jury. Only white jurors were selected for the panel, which ultimately sentenced Foster to death.

Foster's lawyers did try arguing against the jury selection at the time, but managed to get access to the prosecution's notes only in 2006. The documents revealed a strong bias against black people in the jury pool. Despite the proof, courts in Georgia consistently rejected Foster's claims of discrimination.

A US law passed in 1986 makes it illegal to take race into account while selecting jurors for a trial.

mg/rc (AP, Reuters)

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