The US Supreme Court ruled in favor of a Timothy Tyrone Foster, convicted in 1987 of murdering Queen White, a 79-year-old retired schoolteacher.
In a 7-1 ruling, the court handed a victory to inmate to the 48-year-old, and threw out his conviction after almost three decades on death row.
However, he has been warned he could still potentially face a retrial.
Prosecutors say Foster, 18 at the time of the crime, broke into White’s home in the middle of the night, broke her jaw and sexually molested the elderly woman before strangling her and stealing items from her house.
He was convicted and handed a death sentence which he has been fighting ever since.
During jury selection, all four black members of the pool of potential jurors were removed by prosecutors, who gave reasons not related to race for their decision to exclude them.
Only white jurors were selected for the panel that ended up convicting Foster and sentencing him to death.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that prosecution notes that were uncovered revealed a prejudice based on race.
At the time of the trial, Foster’s legal arguments over jury selection failed.
It was only in 2006 that his lawyers obtained access to the prosecution’s jury selection notes, which showed that the race of the black potential jurors was highlighted, indicating “an explicit reliance on race,” according to Foster’s lawyers.
The notes showed that the prosecution marked the names of the black prospective jurors with a “B,” highlighted them in green and circled the word “black” next to the race question on juror questionnaires.
The Supreme Court reached the conclusion that the state’s prosecutors “were motivated in substantial part by race” when two of the potential jurors were excluded.
Justice Clarence Thomas, a conservative and the only black member of the court, was the sole dissenter in the hearing.