Death row inmate Jason Sharp, convicted in 1999 Madison County slaying, to get new case review

NOVEMBER 1, 2012

The Alabama Supreme Court wants the state’s criminal appeals court to take another look at the case of Jason Sharp, who is on death row after being convicted of the 1999 rape and murder of Tracy Morris.

The case took years to go to trial before Sharp was convicted in 2006.

The appeals process has bounced back and forth from various Alabama courts since Sharp’s lawyers alleged prosecutors improperly struck black would-be jurors from the jury pool.

jason sharp.JPGJason Sharp is led from Judge Laura Hamilton’s courtroom by Madison County Sheriff deputies from left, Sgt. Emmanuel Simmons, E.T. Burrows and Avery Miller after being sentenced to the death penalty Thursday Sept. 14, 2006 for the murder of Tracy Morris. (The Huntsville Times/Robin Conn)Brian Lawson |

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that prosecutors must have race-neutral reasons for striking jurors. Both Sharp and Morris are white.

The state’s high court today denied a request by the State of Alabama to reconsider its order from last month, directing the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals to allow Sharp’s attorneys and the state to file new briefs on the issue of whether Sharp received a fair trial.

The dispute centers the complaint by Sharp’s attorneys that the prosecution improperly struck all but two of 13 potential jurors who were African American. The defense struck the other two black potential jurors.

In December 2009, the Alabama Supreme Court overturned the conviction andordered a hearing before Circuit Judge Laura Hamilton, who presided over Sharp’s trial. The court required prosecutors to spell out their reasons for striking black jurors. If the prosecution, led by Madison County District Attorney Rob Broussard failed to persuade the trial court that the juror strikes were proper, Sharp would be entitled to a new trial.

The hearing was held and Hamilton ruled in June 2010 that prosecutors did not discriminate in picking a jury. The prosecution had argued a number of the black potential jurors said they opposed or would be reluctant to impose the death penalty, or didn’t appear to have the professional or social “sophistication” to comprehend technical DNA evidence.

Broussard said he struck twice as many white potential jurors based on the DNA issue and has insisted there was no discrimination in the Sharp case.

The sophistication argument was ridiculed by the defense for appearing to suggest the jurors weren’t intelligent enough. And in one instance, a woman with a bachelor’s degree from Alabama A&M University was excluded, the defense argued, but two white jurors with no college education did make the jury.

The case took another turn in February 2011, when the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that the prosecution had discriminated against the black members of the jury pool and said Sharp was entitled to a new trial.

But in February of this year, the same court, though with a slightly different make-up,reversed its decision from the previous year and said prosecutors did not discriminate.

That ruling was appealed by Sharp’s lawyers to the Alabama Supreme Court. The court ruled Oct. 18, that the lower court must let the two sides provide briefs to the appeals court on the issue of whether Hamilton’s ruling was correct that the prosecution did not discriminate against members of the jury pool.

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