Race and Wrongful Conviction


 Muscogee County prosecutor's tally of jurors' race in late 1970s death penalty trial.

In a few days, GIP and several exonerees will head to the annual Innocence Network Conference, this year in Memphis, TN where civil rights legend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated 50 years ago. The central theme of this year's conference is Race and Wrongful Convictions. 

You may already know that African Americans make up 13% of the U.S. population. But did you know they account for 62% of all DNA exonerations and 88% of DNA exonerations of people arrested as minors?

What's more, government misconduct, such as withholding evidence, factors in 76% of cases in which black murder defendants were wrongfully convicted - 13% higher than in cases of white defendants. These numbers bear out within GIP: 86% of our exonerees are African American.


Johnny was sentenced to death by an all-white jury in 1977 for the murder of a young white woman in Columbus, Georgia (Muscogee County). He’s been wrongfully imprisoned ever since: 26 years on death row and the remainder in general population serving Life Without Parole.

One of the prosecutors involved in Johnny’s trial was Douglas Pullen. You may recall Mr. Pullen from the recent US Supreme Court case of Foster v. Chatman (the one where prosecutors used green highlighters and “B”s with numbers to emphasize black jurors). We teamed up with the Southern Center for Human Rights (SCHR), a leading civil rights organization, on Johnny’s case and investigated racial bias in his case.

Our client, Johnny Lee Gates

Court-ordered prosecutor jury selection notes prove that Muscogee County prosecutors intentionally kept black jurors off of Johnny's and six other death penalty cases involving black defendants in the late 1970's.

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Muscogee County prosecuting attorney Douglas Pullen struck 27 out of 27 qualified black jurors in five death penalty cases against black defendants in the late 1970s.

Muscogee County prosecutors exercised systemic race discrimination in death penalty cases involving black defendants in the late 1970s

Prosecutor notes from Johnny's case and several other capital trials involving black defendants in Muscogee County in the late 1970s establish a pattern of systematic race discrimination in jury selection. 

They reveal that Muscogee County prosecutors Douglas Pullen and William Smith:

  • Labeled white prospective jurors as “W” and black prospective jurors as “N"
  • Ranked black prospective jurors as “1” on a scale of 1 to 5 without any further explanation
  • Singled out black prospective jurors by marking dots next to each of their names
  • Described black prospective jurors using derogatory words like “slow,” “old + ignorant,” “cocky,” “con artist,” “hostile,” and “fat”
  • Identified one white male as “top juror” because he “has to deal with 150 to 200 of these people that work for his construction co."

Muscogee County, GA

Notes on a prospective black juror.

The United States Constitution prohibits systematic race discrimination in jury selection.

Today we joined SCHR in supplementing our pending Extraordinary Motion for New Trial in Johnny's case with this new incontrovertible proof of race discrimination. 

Johnny Lee Gates was tried and sentenced to death by an intentionally all-white jury; a trial defined by race discrimination from the start. He is entitled to a new trial free of race discrimination - a fair trial by a jury of his peers who can hear all the evidence in the case.  

We have a hearing on Johnny’s case in May. We will keep you posted. In the meantime, check out this article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution (if you hit a paywall try this version)

1 thought on “Race and Wrongful Conviction”

  1. Renate Solomon

    Clare, thank you for sharing! I know you will help Finn! Pullen was DA at his trial and promised Finn if he confessed, once he became judge, he would have him out in 7 years. Finn never confessed.

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