After Two Supreme Court Reversals, Texas Man Sentenced to Life

Thomas Miller-El received a life sentence from a Texas judge after pleading guilty to a Dallas murder in exchange for the prosecution's agreement not to seek the death penalty. Miller-El had originally been sentenced to death in 1986. He raised an appeal asserting that potential black jurors had been improperly stopped from serving at his trial. The appeal was denied by the lower courts, but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled (8-1) in 2003 that he should have been granted additional review of his claim in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit (Miller-El v. Cockrell). The Fifth Circuit did review his bias claim but denied him any relief. The U.S. Supreme Court again reviewed his case and this time ruled (6-3) that blacks had been unconstitutionally eliminated from Miller-El's trial jury, and, hence, he was entitled to a new trial (Miller-El v. Dretke (2005)).

Miller-El, who is 56, also agreed not to appeal his case further. He will serve a life sentence for the murder plus 20 years for aggravated assault.

The U.S. Supreme Court referenced a Dallas Morning News study indicating that a high percentage of blacks were struck from jury service in Dallas County around the time of Miller-El's trial. There was also reference to an earlier prosecutor's manual that recommended excluding "Jews, Negroes, Dagos and Mexicans or a member of any minority race on a jury, no matter how rich or how well educated." Although the manual was no longer in use, the defense argued that such philosophies continued to influence jury selection in the 1980s.

(J. Emily, "Death penalty case that highlighted jury bias ends in plea deal," Dallas Morning News, March 20, 2008). See Supreme Court and Race.