Alameda Co. DA's office to review all death penalty cases over possible prosecutorial misconduct

ByTim Johns KGO logo
Tuesday, April 23, 2024
Alameda Co. DA's office to review all death penalty cases: judge
A federal judge has ordered Alameda County DA Pamela Price's office to review all death penalty cases over possible prosecutorial misconduct.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- A federal judge on Monday has ordered Alameda County District Attorney Pamela Price's office to review all death penalty cases over possible prosecutorial misconduct.

The judge issued that directive after evidence of potential bias came to light in the case of Earnest Dykes.

He was tried and convicted in 1993.

The jury ruled that Dykes murdered a 9-year-old boy and attempted to murder his grandmother during a robbery in East Oakland.

Dykes now sits on California's death row.

MORE: San Quentin seeks to clear out death row inmates by July

The review of that case found prosecutors may have excluded Black and Jewish jurors.

And that's leading to the latest allegation of a larger systemic problem involving death penalty cases in the 1980s and 90s.

The thought is, Black and Jewish jurors may have been excluded because they were more likely to oppose the death penalty.

Alameda County DA Pamela Price said she's investigating all 35 of the county's existing death penalty cases.

"When you intentionally exclude people based on their race, their religion, their gender, or any protected category, it violates the Constitution," said Price. "As a Constitutional officer, I am mandated to investigate and root out unethical behavior. This is not about left or right or any kind of politics. This is about ethics."

MORE: Santa Clara Co. district attorney moves to resentence death row inmates to life without parole

Price says her office is now in the process of contacting the family of every victim who was impacted in a case that resulted in a death penalty conviction.

If the investigation finds other instances of bias, Price's office will work with the federal judge to decide how to remedy the situation.

"It would take, oh heavens - months and months, if not years to be able to get through all of them," said San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe.

DA Wagstaffe says Price and her team have a big task ahead of them.

A task Wagstaffe says is about not just those cases, but also the legal system as a whole.

"We count on our juries having faith that the system is being done in a fair and impartial manner," he said.

That system has often times been far from impartial says Lisa Hill, a criminal justice professor at Cal State East Bay.

"You're 17 times more likely to get the death penalty if a Black person kills a White person," she said.

Professor Hill says what's happening in Alameda County is one example of why some people are opposed to the death penalty.

She points to data that shows people of color are disproportionately impacted by death penalty convictions.

"Those numbers defy a justice system. It's not a justice system if you have those numbers," Hill said.

DA Price wasn't able to specify how long going through the 35 cases will take.

But legal experts say, depending on what's found, the outcomes for some of these cases could change.

"The suggestion is that this jury selection process was so tainted that you may have to give some of these individuals an actual new trial," said Steven Clark.

It's important to note that while the death penalty is law in California, the state hasn't actually executed anyone since 2006.

Governor Gavin Newsom put a moratorium on capital punishment in 2019.

There are still 640 inmates on death row across California -- the most of any state.

Now Streaming 24/7 Click Here

If you're on the ABC7 News app, click here to watch live