R. Reese Fuller

U.S. Supreme Court tosses La. man's murder conviction

by R. Reese Fuller

Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court threw out the murder conviction and death sentence of a Louisiana man because the prosecutor excluded blacks from the jury. Allen Snyder, who is black, was convicted of killing his estranged wife's companion by an all-white jury. The justices overturned the conviction by a vote of 7 to 2, with Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia dissenting. The Associated Press reports that state prosecutor Jim Williams disqualified all five blacks in the prospective juror pool.

The trial took place in August 1996, less than a year after [O.J.] Simpson was acquitted of killing his ex-wife and a male friend of hers. Leading up to the trial, Williams made repeated public references to the Snyder case as his "O.J. Simpson case."

Snyder was convicted of first-degree murder in Jefferson Parish, just outside New Orleans. He was found guilty of repeatedly slashing his estranged wife, Mary Snyder, and a man, Harold Wilson, with a knife when he found them in a car outside her mother's home in August 1995. His wife survived, but Wilson died.

Adding to the Simpson comparison, Snyder told police just before his arrest that he was suicidal. Simpson, armed with a gun and apparently considering suicide, led police on a dramatic, televised chase before surrendering.

In a 4-3 decision, the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled that race had no part in the state's decisions involving black potential jurors.

Snyder is expected to get a new trial as a result of the ruling. Read more about Snyder v. Louisianaa PDF of the 21-page opinion, listen to NPR's account, and read other accounts from The Times-Picayune, The Washington Post, The Christian Science Monitor, The New York Times, CNN, The Chicago Tribune and The Baltimore Sun.