The Supreme Court has thrown out the death sentence handed down to a black man convicted of molesting and murdering an elderly woman because prosecutors kept African-Americans off the jury.

In a 7-1 ruling, the court handed a victory to Timothy Foster, who could now be sentenced again–or even face a retrial.

Foster, 48, was convicted and sentenced to death for the 1986 murder of retired teacher Queen White.

Prosecutors said Foster–who was 18 at the time–broke into the 79-year-old’s home in Rome, Georgia, in the middle of the night, broke her jaw and sexually assaulted her.

He then strangled her to death and stole valuables from her house, prosecutors said.

Foster has been on death row in Georgia since his conviction in 1987 but could potentially face a retrial.

Before his trial, all four black members of the pool of potential jurors were removed by prosecutors.
The prosecution claimed at the time that this was not related to their race. A fully-white jury went on to convict Foster and sentence him to death.

However, documents obtained from the prosecution by attorneys for Foster have now revealed ‘an explicit reliance on race’ during jury selection.

Prosecutors had circled the word ‘black’ on documents containing potential jurors’ race and wrote the letter ‘B’ next to their name.

In one example, a handwritten note headed ‘Definite No’s’ listed six people, of whom five were the remaining black prospective jurors.

The sixth person on the list was a white woman who made clear she would never impose the death penalty, according to Foster’s lawyer, Stephen Bright. Even that woman ranked behind the black jurors, Bright said.

An investigator working for the prosecutors also ranked the black prospective jurors against each other in case ‘it comes down to having to pick one of the black jurors’.

The Supreme Court ruled that the state prosecutors ‘were motivated in substantial part by race’.

A 1986 Supreme Court ruling made it unlawful to take race into account when excluding potential jurors from a trial.

Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the court’s majority, wrote that prosecution notes introduced into evidence ‘plainly belie the state’s claim that it exercised its strikes (removing a potential juror) in a ‘color blind’ manner’.

The only Supreme Court justice to vote against Foster was Justice Clarence Thomas, a conservative and the only black member of the court.

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