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Racism in Harris County, Racism in Harris County
( “Fatal overdose” -“Funny” e-mail by District Attorney Charles A. Rosenthal)

Charles A. Rosenthal was the Harris County District Attorney in 2004, when Gerald Marshall was charged, tried and sentenced to death.

Rosenthal’s tenure is notorious for his racism and sexism

The picture above is an excerpt from one of Rosenthal’s “funny” emails he liked to send around in the office. In 2008 by order of a federal court, Rosenthal released more than 1.500 emails stored in his official computer in conjunction with a civil rights lawsuit against the Harris County Sheriff’s office. The disclosed emails contained offensive stereotypes of Hispanics and women, racial slurs and ‘jokes’ as well as statements of racial bias against African Americans, including African American jurors.

In the wake of the disclosure of Rosenthal’s emails, soon deeper problems in the district attorney’s office were demonstrated.

The United States Supreme Court has made clear, that “a prosecutor’s discretion is subject to constitutional constraints’. This includes the equal protection component of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment and that means, that the decision whether to prosecute may not be based on “an unjustifiable standard such as race, religion, or other arbitrary classification”.

Scott Phillips study and Paternoster Report

Two comprehensive studies, the Scott Phillips report and the Paternoster study showed that between 2001 and 2008 (the time frame covering Gerald Marshall’s trial), there was significant and undeniable evidence for racial bias in the prosecution of African Americans in Harris county:

The Phillips/Rosenthal report found that “death sentences were imposed on behalf of white victims at 2.5 times the rate, one would expect if the system were blind to race”.

The Paternoster study found that the prosecution was three times more likely to seek death for African-American defendants with case characteristics like Gerald Marshall’s, than for similarly situated white defendants) strongly supported a finding of discriminatory intent.

Data prove: death penalty racially applied in Harris County

On top of that, newly acquired TDCJ data prove that the Harris County DA’s office has practically stopped seeking the death penalty against white defendants but continues to seek death sentences against minorities:

There was effectively a moratorium for about fifteen years on the death penalty for white defendants in Harris County.

Data from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (“TDCJ”) show that the last white defendant who received a death sentence (excluding re-trials/re-sentencings) was serial killer Anthony Shore (on Oct. 21st 2004). Since that time, only one white defendant (Ronald Haskall) has received the death penalty, while 18 non-white defendants were sentenced to death.