One of Dallas County’s most notorious death penalty cases ended yesterday after more than two decades when Thomas Joe Miller-El, 56, pleaded guilty to capital murder and aggravated robbery in a deal that spares his life but virtually assures that he will die in prison, the Dallas Morning News reports. He was sentenced to death in 1986 for the shooting death of a hotel clerk, but the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the decision, citing racial bias in his jury selection. Miller-El, who is black, was sentenced to death a month before the Supreme Court handed down the Batson vs. Kentucky decision that sought to eliminate racial discrimination in jury selection.
That ruling cited statistics from a 1986 series by The Dallas Morning News that in 100 randomly selected felony trials, 86 percent of blacks eligible for jury duty were eliminated by prosecutors’ peremptory challenges. Miller-El’s plea came on the same day the Supreme Court overturned another case with problems similar to his. Snyder vs. Louisiana is a death row case that raised issues about jury selection. In that case, the justices found that a prosecutor improperly excluded blacks from a black defendant’s jury. “It’s ironic that it happened today,” said prosecutor Mike Heiskell said. Both cases “will serve the whole bar in realizing  to be mindful and extremely careful in how a jury is selected.”