Black Man Argues Racist Jury Sent Him to Death Row

A Black man on death row in North Carolina is requesting a review of his case in a Hail Mary attempt at arguing that the jury that found him guilty was riddled with racial bias.

Though the state has a law supporting appeals like these, he needs one vital thing to win his argument: proof.

Hasson Bacote was found guilty of first-degree murder in the killing of Anthony Surles during an attempted home robbery in Johnston County, N.C., per WRAL News. He’s been on death row since 2009 — the same year legislators passed the Racial Justice Act, which allowed death row inmates to appeal for a new sentence if they prove racism played a part in their convictions.

Bacote now plans to argue, under the law, that his jury of 10 white people and two Black people set him up for a racially biased trial, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing him in the legal battle.

Given the county’s history, the ACLU is going to have a field day documenting the racism that festered in this region.

Read more from NBC News:

Lawyers plan to call several historians, social scientists and others to establish a history and pattern of discrimination used in jury selection in Bacote’s trial and in Johnston County, a majority-white suburban county of Raleigh that once prominently displayed Ku Klux Klan billboards during the Jim Crow era.

In court filings, Bacote’s lawyers suggested that local prosecutors at the time of his trial were “nearly two times more likely to exclude people of color from jury service than to exclude whites,” and in Bacote’s case, prosecutors chose to strike prospective Black jurors from the jury pool at more than three times the rate of prospective white jurors.

Bacote’s legal team also said its evidence will show that in Johnston County, the death penalty was 1½ times more likely to be sought and imposed on a Black defendant and two times more likely “in cases with minority defendants.”

If Bacote wins this case, he will be offered life in prison instead of being subject to execution by lethal injection. However, his case could open the door for the 75 other Black death row inmates in North Carolina to fight for their lives.

Bacote’s case could also enforce a standard for jury picking moving forward to ensure that people with racial biases are not in the decision-making seat when someone’s life is at stake.

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