Black, Jewish community demands Alameda County DA action on illegal jury selection

Brent Turner, co-leader of the San Francisco Bay Area Black and Jewish Unity Coalition, demands action on illegal jury selection in the 1990s in Oakland. June 18, 2024 

Some community members rallied on Tuesday in Oakland demanding action regarding the illegal selection of Black and Jewish jurors in death penalty cases.

Brent Turner, co-leader of the San Francisco Bay Area Black and Jewish Unity Coalition, said he wanted these historical wrongs to be righted – and quickly. 

"It is not about acknowledging the past," Turner said in front of the Alameda County Rene C. Davidson Courthouse. "It is about making amends and ensuring that such injustices never happen again. It is also crucial that we recognize that other district attorneys have turned a blind eye to this issue, displaying a level of complacency that is unacceptable. There must be accountability for everyone involved in this matter." 

In 1995, Ernest Dykes was sentenced and convicted for the murder of 9-year-old Lance Clark in East Oakland and the attempted murder of Bernice Clark. 

U.S. District Court Judge Vince Chhabria was assigned to the Dykes case in 2023. 

While reviewing the case file, a deputy district attorney working for DA Pamela Price discovered handwritten notes by prosecutors that displayed they intentionally excluded Black female and Jewish jurors back in the 1990s. 

The story came to light two months ago, prompting Chhabria to order a review of several death penalty cases. Prosecutors in Price's office estimate there are about three dozen cases that could be affected. 

Prosecutors, who want to win a conviction, often want to choose the most law-and-order type jurors to hear their evidence. In general, Black and Jewish jurors tend to be more liberal. 

While Turner is pleased that Price has said she wants to make things right, since prosecutors under a predecessor appeared to have intentionally excluded Black and Jewish jurors, he also demanded that her office actually do something about it. 

"The thought of how many innocent lives may have been affected… is heartbreaking" he said, "as is the thought of how many of these injustices have led to the excessive punishment or even wrongful prosecution and conviction of innocent people." 

The Alameda County’s District Attorney’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.