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Civil Rights Lawyer Links Lynching to Wrongful Death Penalty Convictions

Law and Justice concept. Mallet of the judge, books, scales of justice.
By George Khoury, Esq. on June 28, 2019 10:37 AM

Race relations in the United States have come a long way, but we still have a long way to go to fix current attitudes and repair past wrongs.

A new HBO documentary is hoping to shed light on how the criminal justice system has essentially legally enabled white lynch mobs to sentence black men to death without the use of pitchforks and torches. In the documentary, civil rights attorney Bryan Stevenson explains that the criminal justice system often resembles a lynch mob, where white judges, white prosecutors, and white juries convict black men and sentence them to death. Just recently the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the conviction of Curtis Flowers due to the state's prosecutor doing his best to secure an all white jury against a black defendant, illustrating Stevenson's comparison.

HBO for Justice

While HBO may be in the entertainment business, given the high ratings for the true crime genre, and the network's hit show Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, programming aimed at social justice and criminal justice reform is trending.

The new documentary True Justice: Bryan Stevenson's Fight for Justice focuses on Stevenson's work. Stevenson gained national repute when, in 1985, he successfully freed death row inmate Walter McMillian, who had been wrongfully convicted and served over a decade behind bars. More recently, in 2015, he helped to secure the release of Anthony Ray Hilton, who served nearly 30 years on death row for a murder he didn't commit.

The Lynch Jury

Although it may sound like an extreme comparison to put lynch mobs and juries side by side, the recent discussion in the majority opinion in the Flowers case illustrates that it might not be as extreme as it sounds.

Flowers was tried six times. Notably, the juries returned convictions in four out of the six trials. Those four juries that convicted were either all white, or only had one black juror. The two juries that had more than one black juror hung and did not return convictions. 

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