Russell Tucker was a Black man facing the death penalty in the South in the “tough-on-crime” 1990s. He deserved the chance to be tried by a jury of his peers — people who might have had similar life experiences and been able to see him as something other than a one-dimensional “monster.” However, a Forsyth County prosecutor stole that chance at justice, which is supposed to be guaranteed by law.
The prosecutor came up with reason after reason why Black people could not remain on the jury. They were “monosyllabic.” They “didn’t make eye contact.” They “lacked a stake in the community.” One by one, the court allowed the prosecutor to send all the Black jurors home. Russell Tucker ended up with an all-white jury that did exactly as the prosecution asked: They deemed a young Black man unworthy of life.
Mr. Tucker, who has been on North Carolina’s death row since 1996, is represented by CDPL Senior Attorney Elizabeth Hambourger, along with co-counsel Tom Maher. On Feb. 8, Ms. Hambourger will argue before the North Carolina Supreme Court that racism illegally shaped Mr. Tucker’s jury. Details about how to attend or watch the arguments are here.
The issue before the court is not whether Mr. Tucker committed a terrible crime; he has admitted to killing a security guard outside a Kmart during a desperate and drug-fueled time in his life. Instead, the issue is whether our state will allow brazen racism in death penalty trials.
The racism we’re talking about doesn’t just affect people on trial for their lives, though all-white juries have been shown to convict more easily, even when defendants are innocent, and to sentence more people to death. Jury discrimination also deprives citizens of their Constitutional right to wield power in our democratic system. Read more