The Ohio Supreme Court has granted a new trial to a Cincinnati death-row prisoner whose lawyer’s inaction permitted a racially biased juror to serve in his case. In a 5-2 opinion issued February 27, 2020, the court ruled that defense counsel for Glen Bates (pictured) had been ineffective for failing to question a juror about her racial bias, challenge her for cause, or exercise one of his remaining discretionary strikes to prevent her from serving in the case, in violation of his right to an impartial jury.

Bates had been convicted and sentenced to death in 2015 for the murder of his two-year-old daughter. Evidence in the case showed she had been starved and abused over an extended time period.

Several jurors indicated in responses to a jury questionnaire that “[s]ome races and/or ethnic groups tend to be more violent than others.” One white juror indicated that she “strongly agree[d]” with that statement, then wrote in the space provided for explanation: “Blacks.” When asked whether there was “any racial or ethnic group that you do not feel comfortable being around?,” she responded: “Sometimes black people.” Even though Bates is Black, his lawyer accepted the juror without questioning her about her biases, challenging her for cause, or using an available peremptory challenge to strike her from the jury.

The majority opinion found that the seating of this juror created a constitutionally unacceptable risk that a “powerful racial stereotype—that of black men as ‘violence prone,’ infected the jury’s deliberations.” The court reversed Bates’ conviction and death sentence and directed that he be granted a new trial.

The NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund (LDF) submitted a brief in support of Bates’ appeal, providing historical context for his concerns about racial bias in his case. The LDF brief described Cincinnati’s status as “one of the nation’s most racially segregated cities” and its history of racial violence during the period in which many of the jurors lived there, including a stretch of 15 police killings of Black men in one six-year period and the fatal shooting of an unarmed Black motorist by a University of Cincinnati police officer while Bates was awaiting trial.

Noting racially biased questionnaire responses from at least three white jurors, the LDF brief characterized as “inexplicabl[e]” counsel’s failure to address those issues during jury selection. “The racially biased views of members of Mr. Bates’s jury have no place in any judicial process, let alone a capital trial,” LDF wrote. “Public confidence in the justice system cannot survive if Ohio executes an African-American man sentenced to death by a jury infected with the kind of blatant racial bias demonstrated in this case.”

In a concurring opinion, Judge Judith French said the gruesome nature of the crime created a heightened need for fair process. “Our job, in the face of those facts,” she wrote, “is to ensure that all constitutional guarantees were met. It is also easy to grant those protections when the facts at issue are unemotional and do not cause our passions to rise. But here, facing the possibility that a prospective juror may respond to accusations of such cruelty by prejudging a defendant because of his race, we—and defense counsel, the prosecution, and the trial court—must be extra vigilant.”


Ohio Supreme Court orders new tri­al for Glen Bates in tor­ture’ death of Cincinnati 2‑year-old, WCOP ABC Cincinnati, February 27, 2020. Read the Ohio Supreme Court’s opin­ion in State v. Bates, No. 2020-Ohio-634, Slip Opinion (Feb. 27, 2020) and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund’s brief.