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Expert’s Racist Remarks Get Black Death-Row Inmate New Sentence

Aug. 23, 2022, 6:41 PM

A Black death-row inmate’s constitutional rights were violated during the sentencing phase of his trial when his attorneys allowed his expert witness to testify that Black men with his psychological disorder should be thrown away or locked up, the Sixth Circuit said.

The racially tainted comment was unconstitutional on its face, the opinion by Judge Richard Allen Griffin said Monday.

Odraye Jones was convicted in state court for the 1997 murder of Ashtabula, Ohio, police officer William Glover. During the sentencing phase of his trial, Jones’ lawyers called clinical psychologist James Eisenberg, who concluded that Jones had antisocial personality disorder.

Eisenberg told the jury that people with APD violate the rights of others in illegal ways, lack empathy, and don’t think rationally. He also said that as much as 25% of Black urban males have APD and that the only way to treat them is to “throw them away, lock them up.”

The jury was instructed that it could sentence Jones to life without parole eligibility for 25 years, life without parole eligibility for 30 years, life without the possibility of parole, or death. They chose death.

After Jones’ state court appeals were rejected, he filed for federal habeas relief. The US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit upheld Jones’s conviction but said that he should receive a new sentencing hearing.

Jones’ attorneys provided ineffective assistance by allowing admission of Eisenberg’s statements, the court said. Citing the US Supreme Court’s holding in Buck v. Davis, the court said Eisenberg’s statements reflected the view that Jones’ race disproportionately predisposed him to violent conduct and that he was more deserving of execution.

The court noted that Jones’ trial counsel actually focused on Eisenberg’s statement that “few” black men with APD actually commit murder because they “are incarcerated in some capacity or on some kind of strict probation.” But Eisenberg also told the jury that absent incarceration or probation, Black men with APD not incarcerated or on probation “would commit more murders,” it said.

Eisenberg’s opinion coincided with the racial prejudice that Black men are prone to violence, “which offends the Constitution on its face and cannot be considered strategic,” the court said. There’s also a reasonable probability that Jones would have received a lesser sentence if Eisenberg’s testimony wasn’t introduced, it said.

Judges Karen Nelson Moore and R. Guy Cole Jr. joined the opinion.

The case is Jones v. Bradshaw, 2022 BL 292445, 6th Cir., No. 07-3766, 8/22/22.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bernie Pazanowski in Washington at bpazanowski@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com; Nicholas Datlowe at ndatlowe@bloomberglaw.com