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State Supreme Court upholds death sentence in Riverside County case, but two justices express concern about racial bias in jury selection

January 31, 2011 | 12:41 pm

The California Supreme Court on Monday upheld the death sentence of an African American man convicted of killing an elderly white couple in Riverside County, a decision that prompted two justices to dissent on the grounds that prosecutors may have improperly excused prospective black jurors.

Click to read the court's decision in People v. Jones In a majority ruling written by Justice Ming W. Chin, the state high court affirmed the guilty verdict and death sentence against Albert Jones, who was 29 when he stabbed to death James Florville, 82, and his wife, Madalynne Florville, 72, in their Mead Valley home in 1993.

DOCUMENT: Read the court's decision

"The record here shows that the prosecutor exercised his peremptory challenges to obtain a jury as favorable to his side as possible ... and not to eliminate African-Americans for racial reasons," Chin wrote for the majority.

But Justice Kathryn Mickle Werdegar and Carlos R. Moreno dissented on grounds that the prosecutors' reasons for excusing three of five black prospective jurors were not backed by the evidence, and that the trial judge failed to probe the prosecutor properly.

"A trial court, having found that a prosecutor's peremptory challenges establish a prima facie case of group bias, has an obligation to make a sincere and reasoned effort to evaluate the prosecutor's justifications," wrote Werdegar, who was joined by Moreno. "This, the court below failed to do."

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-- Maura Dolan in San Francisco

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