The Washington Supreme Court has ruled that prosecutors discriminated against a Black man by striking the last Black person from his jury pool nearly two decades ago.
Theodore Rhone, 65, will get a new trial as the high court takes steps to rectify a national history of racism and the persistence of implicit bias in jury selection, The Seattle Times reported.
The unanimous decision was issued Thursday.
"They are keeping their promise and commitment to eliminating racial discrimination in the justice system," Lise Ellner, Rhone’s attorney, said of the state Supreme Court justices.
Rhone argued before his 2005 trial that the state’s exclusion of the last Black potential juror without reason was discriminatory.
"I don’t mean to be facetious or disrespectful or a burden to the court," he told the judge at the time. "However, I do want a jury of my peers. And I notice that (the prosecutor) took away the Black, African-American, man off the jury. I would like to have someone that represents my culture as well as your culture. To have this the way it is to me seems unfair to me."
A new jury pool was denied. Rhone was convicted in Pierce County Superior Court of robbery, unlawful possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver and other charges.
Because of previous robbery-related convictions, Rhone received a life sentence without the possibility of parole under Washington's three-strikes law.
He appealed the case, which the state Supreme Court denied in 2010. However, things have changed since then, Justice Susan Owens wrote on behalf of the court in the ruling this week.
"It is undeniable that our understanding of the impact of implicit racial bias on jury selection has changed since our 2010 decision," Owens wrote.
Rhone, speaking from the Stafford Creek Corrections Center on Thursday, told the newspaper the decision means a fresh start.