A judge has moved a North Carolina inmate off death row, amidst allegations that prosecutors illegally discriminated on the basis of race during jury selection.
After nearly 20 years on death row, 39-year-old Phillip Antwan Davis was re-sentenced on Friday to life in prison with no possibility of parole.
Davis was originally sentenced to death in the 1996 murders of his aunt and her daughter in Asheville.
An all-white jury sentenced Davis, who is black, to death after he pleaded guilty to the murders.
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Prosecutors purposefully excluded the only qualified black juror from the 1997 jury that decided Davis’ sentence, according to the N.C. Center for Death Penalty Litigation.
Prosecutors in the case had attended a training session where they were taught to give excuses for striking jurors. In a news release issued Monday, the death penalty litigation center said that such excuses were used “to mask their intention of ridding the jury of African Americans.”
It is illegal to strike jurors based on race.
When they excluded the black juror, prosecutors noted that she was wearing a cross earring and objected to her Tweetie Bird t-shirt, which they said indicated she didn’t take the case seriously, the center said.
Buncombe County District Attorney Todd Williams, who was elected to that office in 2014, agreed that Davis should be re-sentenced to life without parole.
Williams cited several reasons, including Davis’ age at the time of the crime, according to the Asheville Citizen-Times. Davis was 18 when he committed the murders. Had he been under 18, he would not have been eligible for the death penalty.
Williams also noted that Davis accepted responsibility for the murders and pleaded guilty to the crimes, the Citizen-Times story said.
In court on Friday, Davis expressed his continuing regret for the killings:
“To family members and anyone who knew Joyce and Caroline, they were two very special people who were loved by a lot of people including myself,” Davis said. “I regret everything that happened and it’s something I’ll regret for the rest of my life.”