Conviction In 30-Year-Old Death Row Case Reversed

Appeals court rules prosecutors improperly excluded blacks from jury

A white man on Texas death row for nearly 30 years could soon be free after an appeals court ruled that Dallas prosecutors improperly excluded blacks from his jury because they believed blacks would empathize with defendants.

Jonathan Bruce Reed was convicted and condemned for the November 1978 rape-slaying of Braniff International Airways flight attendant Wanda Jean Wadle at her northeast Dallas apartment.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled Dallas County prosecutors improperly excluded black prospective jurors from Reed's trial and ordered Reed released from custody unless prosecutors choose to retry him quickly.

"Although we do not relish adding a new chapter to this unfortunate story more than 30 years after the crime took place, we conclude that the Constitution affords Reed a right to relief," a three-member panel of the New Orleans-based court wrote.

Jamille Bradfield, a spokeswoman for Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins, had no immediate comment on the court decision.

Reed has been on death row since September 1979, making him among the longest-serving prisoners awaiting execution in Texas.

He won a new trial in 1983, was convicted again and sentenced to death again. The conviction was upheld by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to review the case.

Additional appeals led to an evidentiary hearing in 2005 before a federal court, where Reed was allowed to move forward with his claims of prosecutorial misconduct.

The 5th Circuit, in a ruling posted late Monday, said Reed's case mirrored the capital murder case of Thomas Miller-El, on Texas death row for nearly 20 years until the Supreme Court overturned his verdict because of racial discrimination during jury selection at his Dallas County trial. Miller-El last year took a life prison sentence as part of a plea deal.

The Supreme Court cited a manual, written by a Dallas prosecutor in 1969 and used for years later, that advised Dallas prosecutors how to exclude minorities from juries. Documents in Miller-El's case described how the memo advises prosecutors to avoid selecting minorities on juries because "they almost always empathize with the accused."

"Reed presents this same historical evidence of racial bias in the Dallas County District Attorney's Office," the 5th Circuit panel said.

In both cases, prosecutors used challenges to exclude black jurors yet accepted several white jurors "who exhibited the exact same characteristics," the court said. The judges said the rationalization for excluded jurors "were in reality pretexts for discrimination."

Reed, now 57, already had served time in state prison for burglary and federal prison for auto theft and was on parole when he was identified as the man who attacked Wadle and her roommate, Kimberly Pursley, on Nov. 1, 1978. He'd apparently entered their apartment by posing as a maintenance man.

Pursley identified Reed during the investigation. When he tried strangling her, she feigned unconsciousness and he left. She then found Wadle with plastic bag over her head and a belt tied around her neck. Wadle, 26, died nine days later.

Two other apartment residents identified Reed as the man they saw in the complex just before the time of the murder.

At his second trial, the witnesses included a former cellmate who testified Reed told him he had murdered the woman.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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