From [DPIC] A Georgia judge has granted a new trial to Johnny Lee Gates based on new evidence that excludes him as the source of DNA on implements used by the killer during the 1976 rape and murder for which Gates was sentenced to death. DNA testing disclosed that Gates’s DNA was not found on a necktie and the bathrobe belt the prosecution said were used by the killer to bind Kathrina Wright, the 19-year-old wife of a soldier stationed at Fort Benning during the murder. In a January 10, 2019, decision overturning Gates’s conviction, Senior Muscogee County Superior Court Judge John Allen credited the analysis of defense DNA expert Mark Perlin that Gates’s DNA was not present on the evidence. Judge Allen noted that Perline had trained the two Georgia Bureau of Investigation scientists the prosecution relied upon in the most recent court proceedings in the case and that the testimony of the GBI witnesses supported Perlin's conclusions. Judge Allen wrote that “[t]he exclusion of Gates’ profile to the DNA on the two items is material and may be considered exculpatory” and entitled Gates to a new trial.
Gates, who is African American, was convicted and sentenced to death by an all-white jury in a racially charged case. His death sentence was overturned in 2003 based upon evidence that he is intellectually disabled, and he was resentenced to life. Heightening the racial tensions of a black man accused of raping and murdering a young white woman, prosecutors deliberately excluded African American jurors from the case. Lawyers from the Georgia Innocence Project and Southern Center for Human Rights filed a motion in March 2018 arguing that Columbus, Georgia prosecutors engaged in a pattern and practice of systematically striking black prospective jurors because of their race in Gates’s case and six other capital cases with black defendants, discriminatorily empanelling all- or nearly-all-white juries in those cases. The prosecutors’ jury selection notes in those seven capital trials showed that the state attorneys in his case had carefully tracked the race of jurors, struck every black juror they could, and repeatedly wrote derogatory comments about blacks and black prospective jurors.
“The notes reveal that the prosecutors:
(1) labeled the white prospective jurors as “W” and the black prospective jurors as “N”;
(2) singled out the black prospective jurors by marking dots in the margins next to their names;
(3) identified one white prospective juror as a “top juror” because he “has to deal with 150 to 200 of these people that works for his construction co.”; GEORGIA, MUSCOGEE COUNTY SUPERIOR/STATE COURT eFILED 3/19/2018 8:23 AM ANN L. HARDMAN, CLERK 2
(4) described black prospective jurors as “slow,” “old + ignorant,” “cocky,” “con artist,” “hostile,” and “fat”;
(5) tallied the race of the final jurors selected to serve, with twelve marks in the white column and no marks in the black column; and
(6) ranked black prospective jurors as “1” on a scale of 1 to 5 without any further explanation.
These notes do not stand alone. There were two prosecutors at Gates’s trial: Douglas Pullen and William Smith. Pullen was involved in five capital trials involving black defendants between 1975 and 1979. The prosecution struck 27 of 27 black prospective jurors across the five cases. Smith was involved in four capital trials involving black defendants in that same period. In three of the four, the prosecutors struck all of the black prospective jurors. In the fourth, they used 10 strikes to exclude black prospective jurors; however, an all-white jury was impossible because the final pool of prospective jurors had more black citizens than the prosecution had strikes.”
A Georgia Tech mathematics professor provided expert testimony that the probability that black jurors were removed for race-neutral reasons was infinitesimally small – 0.000000000000000000000000000004 percent. In an opinion that excoriated local prosecutors for “undeniable ... systematic race discrimination during jury selection,” Judge Allen found that the prosecutors “identified the black prospective jurors by race in their jury selection notes, singled them out … and struck them to try Gates before an all-white jury.” However, the court said the race discrimination against Gates was not grounds to grant him a new trial because he had not shown that the lawyers who previously represented him did not have access to the evidence of systematic discrimination.