ST. LOUIS (AP) — Advocates for a black inmate facing execution in Missouri said Monday that he was unfairly sentenced to death when African-Americans were excluded from the jury at his St. Louis County trial.
Andre Cole, 52, is scheduled to die Tuesday for killing a man in 1998 in a fit of anger over having to pay child support. He would be the third convicted killer put to death in Missouri this year.
Members of a coalition that includes Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, the NAACP, the American Civil Liberties Union and other organizations called on Gov. Jay Nixon to halt the execution and appoint a board of inquiry to examine concerns that there is racial bias in Missouri's jury selection process.
"This is a national problem," said Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the ACLU office in St. Louis. "The criminal justice system in this country is unfair. It targets persons of color. It treats the African-American community differently."
A spokesman for Nixon said that the clemency petition is under review.
An all-white jury convicted Cole after St. Louis County prosecutors removed three black potential jurors from the pool of candidates. Mittman said one black man was removed because he was divorced, but a white juror was not removed even though he was paying child support — the alleged source of Cole's anger.
One of Cole's advocates, Jamala Rogers, said the racial unrest in the St. Louis County community of Ferguson after last summer's fatal police shooting of Michael Brown as well as the scathing Department of Justice report about Ferguson should send a signal that poor treatment of blacks, including those in the criminal justice system, will no longer be tolerated.
"All the scabs have been taken off. Ferguson did that," Rogers said. "For us to keep going with blinders on, it's not going to be healthy for us as a nation."
Cole's supporters do not dispute his guilt, but don't believe the crime warranted him getting the death penalty.
Cole and his wife, Terri, divorced in 1995. The couple had two children and fought about visitation. Evidence showed that Andre Cole was upset that his wages were being garnished to pay $3,000 in unpaid child support.
The first deduction appeared on his Aug. 21, 1998, paycheck. Hours later, Cole forced his way into his ex-wife's home and was confronted by Anthony Curtis, who was visiting. Andre Cole stabbed Curtis and Terri Cole repeatedly. Curtis died, while Terri Cole survived.
Andre Cole fled the state but surrendered to police 33 days later. He claimed at trial that he did not bring a weapon into Terri Cole's house and that Curtis initiated the attack with a knife.
Cole's attorney, Joseph Luby, has filed three appeals with the U.S. Supreme Court, including one alleging that Cole suffers from psychosis and is incompetent for execution.
"He hears voices over the TV, over the prison intercom, everywhere," Luby said. "He believes that Gov. Nixon, St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch and others are giving him messages about his case."
The same point was raised before the Missouri Supreme Court, which ruled last week that Cole was competent for execution.
A spokesman for McCulloch did not respond to a message seeking comment.
Luby said concerns that blacks are being unfairly removed from St. Louis County jury pools goes beyond Cole's case.
"There have been quite a number of St. Louis County cases where we see African-American men sentenced to death by all-white juries, and it's just not the kind of thing that can be explained by randomness or chance," Luby said. "There's just been a repeated pattern."