SCOTUS roundup: Andre Thomas, Rodney Reed, Dylann Roof

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Andre Thomas

The Court, in a 6-3 decision, rejected an appeal by Andre Thomas’s lawyers to review his case because it was tainted by racism. Thomas was sentenced to death in 2005 for killing his wife, their son, and her daughter in Sherman, Texas, in 2004. In his petition for writ of certiorari, his lawyers argued that three members of his all-white jury (Thomas is Black) had stated their opposition to interracial marriage and procreation in their juror questionnaires. They were seated anyway, with no objection from his trial lawyer. In addition, his lawyers noted that from the time he was a child, Thomas had a severe mental illness — for which he repeatedly but unsuccessfully sought help — before the murders. After his arrest, he removed one of his eyes, gouged out the second one years later, and ate it.

Nevertheless, the Court declined to hear the case without explanation. Justice Sotomayor dissented, with Justices Kagan and Jackson joining, finding the death sentence unconstitutional.

“It is ultimately the duty of the courts ‘to confront racial animus in the justice system,’ Sotomayor wrote. “To address these ‘most grave and serious statements of racial bias’ is ‘to ensure that our legal system remains capable of coming ever closer to the promise of equal treatment under the law that is so central to a functioning democracy.'”

Rodney Reed

The Court heard oral argument on whether Rodney Reed’s civil rights lawsuit against Texas officials for rejecting his attempt to get DNA testing of the evidence that sent him to death row was filed too late. 

Reed was sentenced to death in Texas for the rape and murder of 19-year-old Stacey Stites in 1996. Reed has maintained his innocence and alleges that he was having an affair with Stites and that her boyfriend, Jimmy Fennell, a former police officer, had killed her. He has sought DNA testing on the belt used to strangle Stites, believing it would implicate Fennell. But the state trial court denied his request for DNA testing in 2014. He then turned to the federal courts, which turned him down because he didn’t file within the two-year window federal courts allow a defendant to challenge a state ruling. 

So the question before the Court is when does the clock on the two-year window begin ticking? When the appeals court rules against him or when his request for a rehearing is filed?

Dylann Roof

The Court declined to hear Dylann Roof’s appeal of his conviction and death sentence in the 2015 killing of nine Black people in Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, where they were meeting for Bible study.

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