Potential Jurors already said no to the death penalty in November 2019, why is Eric Schmitt so determined to kill in St. Louis City?
On April 12th, prosecutors from the Attorney General’s Office and defense attorneys from the Eastern Capital Division met in the Circuit Court of St. Louis City for a second attempt to seat a “death-qualified” jury in the trial of Eric Lawson. Lawson is facing the death penalty for the first-degree murder of Breiana Ray, Gwendolyn Ray, and Aiden Lawson in 2012. In November of 2019, after questioning hundreds of St. Louis City residents, prosecutors could not find 12 people without hardship who felt the death penalty is ever an appropriate punishment. Death-qualified juries are composed of jurors who are not strictly opposed to capital punishment but also do not believe that the death penalty should be imposed in all cases of capital murder. Although this definition indicates the process’s ideal application to impanel an unbiased capital case jury, we are all aware that little within the criminal justice system is ever actually ‘just.’
April 12th, 2021, marked the first week of jury selection, which started with an astonishing 3,400 people being summoned to the circuit court to impanel a jury of 12 and, ideally, six alternatives. Only .1% of potential jurors need to believe they could vote for death as a punishment in a first-degree murder case. As support for the death penalty has declined in America, the process of “death-qualification” produces increasingly unrepresentative juries from which African Americans are disproportionately excluded.
Jury composition is an ongoing issue within the legal system; the problems of all-white juries and removing black jurors have plagued this nation for centuries. It is well documented that all-white juries are more prone to convict and sentence to death Black men in capital cases, as examined in this 2016 article from Death Penalty Information Center, 30 Years After Landmark Case, Exclusion of Black Jurors Continues to Plague Death Penalty | Death Penalty Information Center. The questions posed to potential jurors can and have often resulted in entire societal demographics being excluded from these trials, which of course, renders the right of “a jury of one’s peers” moot.
Currently, St. Louis City has the highest number of pending capital cases in Missouri. Four Black men are facing the death penalty for first-degree murder. The time and costs involved with summoning 3,400 potential jurors hoping at least 12 of them believe in the death penalty is astonishing. Especially given that throughout Missouri, no jury has unanimously voted in favor of death since 2013. Across the nation, public opinion is shifting away from support of the death penalty. How many chances will the Attorney Generals Office get to seat a death-qualified jury when the people of St. Louis City and jurors across Missouri have spoken loud and clear?
Death is not Justice.