‘Throw Them Away’: Federal Court Overturns Ohio Man’s Death Sentence, Ruling Prosecutors’ Expert Witness Influenced the Jury with Racist Remarks About Black Men with His ‘Condition’

A federal court is overturning the death sentence of an Ohio Black man after a new lens on his case determined the prosecutor’s expert witness may have improperly influenced the jury with his testimony. The clinical psychologist said men of African descent were inherently more likely to commit violence than males of different races with similar conditions.

On Monday, Aug. 22, a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit determined that convicted murderer Odraye Jones, who has been serving time on death row for the last 25 years, did not get a fair sentence after his trial.

With his appeal, Jones had hoped to have his conviction overturned. The court ruled against 13 issues raised in his petition. However, there was one thing that caught their attention.

In the decision, Judge Richard Allen Griffin said, “We issued a separate certificate of appealability for an additional issue: whether Jones received ineffective assistance of counsel during the penalty phase because his attorneys failed to prepare expert witnesses properly, as shown by the psychologist’s racialized testimony.”

He argued Jones should be afforded new sentencing because his original sentencing hearing was blanketed by “racialized testimony,” after the prosecutors’ witness spewed bigoted theory as fact.

“We hold that this issue is not procedurally defaulted and that on our de novo review of the merits, trial counsel performed ineffectively by presenting racialized evidence during the penalty phase. Jones is entitled to a new sentencing.”

The judge stated Jones’ lawyers should have challenged the racist theory and inadequately represented their client’s best interest by not doing so. “There is a reasonable probability that Jones would have received a lesser sentence” if the medical professional’s testimony had not been introduced and accepted during the trial.

Dr. James Eisenberg, the psychologist, said on the stand he believed Jones suffered from antisocial personality disorder, a disorder he alleges disproportionately affected “African-American urban males.”

Antisocial personality disorder (ASPD), according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, “is a mental condition in which a person has a long-term pattern of manipulating, exploiting, or violating the rights of others without any remorse. This behavior may cause problems in relationships or at work and is often criminal.”

In his report on Jones, Eisenberg noted he interviewed him six times before the trial, totaling 14 hours. He determined, according to the court documents, “Jones had ‘possible neuropsychological impairment,’ and he ‘should therefore be evaluated for such impairment.’ Dr. Eisenberg found Jones ‘surprisingly intelligent and articulate,’ despite acknowledging that an IQ of 86 ‘place[d] him in the low average range of intelligence.’”

The doctor further stated he did not believe people like Jones could be rehabilitated, and the only resolve for these innately dangerous people is to “throw them away, lock them up.”

He blamed the diagnosis on Jones’ mother, Darlene, whom he categorized as “drug dependent,” and said his disorder was “biological.”

Eisenberg, according to court records, did not review the mother’s medical records. He did, however, review a series of criminal docket summaries about her to base his clinical and expert decision, concluding “[Jones’s] behavior reflects his survival instincts, and his personality reflects the lack of effective empathy and moral development.”

This led to the prosecutors saying, “Odraye Jones was not born bad … just kind of ang[ry] and bitter at the world. Not even sure why.”

According to the psychologist, not all Black men diagnosed with mental health disorders are murderous. The key reason for them being spared is that they must have been locked up before they had the opportunity to take someone’s life.

The court declared, “Racial evidence … infected Jones’s case. Trial counsel focused on Dr. Eisenberg’s testimony that ‘few’ ‘urban African American males’ diagnosed with APD actually commit murder.”

“In response,” their remarks continued. “Dr. Eisenberg testified that ‘one out of four African males of the age 25 are incarcerated in some capacity or on some kind of strict probation. So that would eliminate those individuals from engaging in this conduct. So, part of it is incarceration itself that precludes homicide.’”

“Dr. Eisenberg told the jury that, absent incarceration or probation, Black men diagnosed with APD would commit more murders … Eisenberg’s ‘opinion coincided precisely with a particularly noxious strain of racial prejudice ’— that of Black men as ‘violence prone’—which offends the Constitution on its face and cannot be considered strategic.”

To rectify the wrong, the judges wrote, “We remand the case to the district court with instructions to issue a writ of habeas corpus vacating Jones’s death sentence unless the State of Ohio conducts a new penalty-phase proceeding within 180 days of remand.”

The judges did uphold the ruling that Jones murdered Officer William D. Glover, Jr. on Nov. 17, 1997, in Ashtabula, Ohio, shooting him with a hollow-point bullet. The “wounds [were] to the top of his head and to the area just below his right eye. He also sustained a bullet wound to his right shoulder. The gunshot wound to the top of Officer Glover’s head and the wound to his face were both fired from a distance of less than one foot,” court documents stated.

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