Thomas Miller-El wins new trial
Published Jun 15, 2005 8:25 PM
In a six-to-three decision on
June 13, the U.S. Supreme Court sharply rebuked Texas prosecutors as well as
Texas appeals courts, ruling that their excuses for racism in jury selection are
The conviction of Thomas Miller-El, an African American
man sentenced to death in Dallas in 1986, was thrown out. Now—after
spending over 19 years on death row—he will be granted a new
Miller-El was within six days of execution in February 2002, when
the Supreme Court intervened and gave him a stay of execution. The high court
later ordered the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to re-examine Miller-El’s
claims that Black people were unfairly struck from his jury.
Circuit upheld the original Texas court ruling. That led the Supreme Court to
review Miller-El’s case for a second time, ending in this
Dorothy Miller-El visited her husband on the day the ruling came
down. He told her: “Wow! I’ve been here for so long, been fighting
so hard. Wow! I am so happy that I’m lost for words.”
Miller-El had left home before the ruling was announced. She got the good news
from Thomas Miller-El. He heard it on the radio, and in a phone call from his
attorney, Jim Marcus, executive director of the Texas Defenders Service in
“We are both so happy,” Dorothy Miller-El told
Workers World. “This ruling sends a strong message that the Texas courts
cannot be discriminatory. The Supreme Court will not tolerate racist
“This is not only good for Thomas, but for all those
going through the Texas criminal-justice system. Blacks cannot be struck from
juries just because they are Black.”
She added: “We thank all
Thomas’s supporters in Texas and around the world for their continued
support. It is overwhelming today getting this good news. I’ve heard from
people around the state and so many in Europe.”
For years, Thomas
Miller-El had contended that the Dallas prosecutor struck 10 of the 11 Black
people eligible to be on his jury because of their race.
one Black man on my jury,” Miller-El told Workers World in an interview
conducted before the Supreme Court’s ruling. “He thought the death
penalty was too quick. He said that people who commit crimes should be tied down
on a bed of red ants and have honey poured on them.
“This was a very
inhumane thing to say and it was inhumane for the district attorney to accept a
juror who would make such a statement,” Dorothy Miller-El
Miller-El’s brief to the Supreme Court cited a treatise by
Dallas County prosecutors in which they had warned against letting “Jews,
Negroes, Dagos and Mexicans” serve on juries, no matter how much money
Another memorandum, dated 1969 and used to train prosecutors,
advised, “You are not looking for any member of a minority
group—they almost always empathize with the accused.”
after Miller-El’s 1986 conviction, the Supreme Court ruled in Batson vs.
Kentucky that jurors could not be struck from serving on a jury because of their
race. The Batson ruling applied retro actively to Miller-El because his case was
still being appealed.
Miller-El was arrested in November 1985 while visiting his
hometown of Hou ston. He was ambushed by a Houston Police SWAT team, who began
Miller-El told WW that as he was lying on the ground
bleeding, he could hear one of the cops say:” “Is the
n——- dead? If he ain’t, kill him!”
shattered his intestines and other internal organs. When he later awoke in a
Houston hospital, he found he had been charged with capital murder for the
robbery and death of a Dallas motel clerk.
He was in a Houston hospital
for 52 days. He had two operations. He was then transferred to the Dallas County
Jail, and was tried 19 days later.
Miller-El continued to suffer severe
health complications during and after his trial. He was hospitalized several
times during the trial, prompting requests for medical evaluations from the
The judge took away Miller-El’s pain medication during
the trial and accused him of smuggling drugs into the courtroom. He was left
without pain relief, denied necessary sleep, and could not participate in his
But the trial proceeded without pause. Miller-El suffered
complications with his colostomy and infections from the gunshot wound, which
was oozing green liquid. He also had pneumonia and was so weak he could barely
whisper to his attorneys.
“My court-appointed attorney was running
for D.A. in the county election at the time, and he really did not want to talk
to me,” Miller told Workers World in 1990. “I was so weak that I had
to get up real close to him to try to speak with him and he did not like
The evening after his conviction, Miller-El was sent to the
emergency room at Parkland Hospital, where he was treated for a small-bowel
obstruction. He appeare d in the courtroom the next morning for
Miller-El’s case has drawn national and international
attention. The NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Common Cause and the League of Women
Voters all filed a “friend of the court” briefs. So did several
former judges, prosecutors and even a former director of the FBI.
supporters include political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal, noted Spanish filmmaker
Javier Corcuero, Spanish pop rock group SKA-P, and Biblioteca Thomas Miller-El
in Peru. Supporters in Europe maintain his Web page.
case could play a role in a future Supreme Court nomination battle. Among the
federal appeals judges who denied the existence of racism in Dallas County and
voted to execute Miller-El was Edith Jones of the 5th Circuit. She is believed
to be on a short list of potential Supreme Court nominees if President George W.
Bush gets to make a nomination.
Letters of solidarity can be sent to:
Thomas Miller-El #000834, Polunsky Unit, 3872 FM 350 South, Livingston, TX
77035. For more background on his case, visit www.thomasmillerel.org.
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