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Death Row Inmate Requests New Trial, Claims Blacks Were Kept Off the Jury

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By Monica Land, Special to the NNPA from the Mississippi Link –

GRENADA – Attorneys for a death row inmate have argued that he deserves a new trial because they claim prosecutors moved to keep Blacks off his jury. The Mississippi Supreme Court recently heard arguments in the case of Terry Pitchford, who stands convicted of capital murder for the 2004 shooting death of Crossroads Grocery Store owner Ruben Britt, in Grenada.

Pitchford was 18 when he was convicted and now at 24, he is the youngest inmate on death row.

Prosecutors said Britt died from multiple gunshot wounds inside his store, and that one of the murder weapons was Britt's personal gun, which he kept in the store for protection. That gun was later found in Pitchford's car.

Pitchford was arrested with three other men, Eric Bullins, Quincy Bullins and Demarcus Westmoreland.

According to printed reports, Pitchford's attorneys argued that it was not unreasonable for prosecutors to explain why a white juror was seated as they do when black juror is excluded.

Alison Steiner, with the Mississippi Office of Capital Offense Counsel, gave an example of striking a black juror because of a past conviction, but sitting a white juror who has committed a crime.

Steiner said these actions raise the question of whether "Blacks were being struck on the basis of skin color and not on the basis of character."

Assistant Attorney General Patrick McNamara said, however, that Pitchford's defense attorneys raised no objection to the striking of black jurors during the jury selection for his trial.

When that occurs, McNamara said, there is nothing in the court records for the Supreme Court to review.

Pitchford's attorneys say prosecutors dismissed nine times as many black prospective jurors as they did white jurors.

The Mississippi Supreme Court is still hearing the case.

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