A Black federal death row inmate who was convicted by an all-white jury is set to be executed in November.
Orlando Hall’s execution is scheduled for November 19 at the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana, the Department of Justice (DoJ) announced on Wednesday. Hall was convicted of kidnapping and killing a teenage girl in Texas in 1994.
If the execution goes ahead as planned, 49-year-old Hall will become the eighth man put to death this year. The Trump administration has resumed federal executions after an informal moratorium that lasted almost two decades.
According to prosecutors, Hall and four accomplices kidnapped 16-year-old Lisa Rene from her home in Arlington, Texas, in September 1994 as revenge on her brother, who they believed had reneged on a $4,700 marijuana deal.
Hall and his accomplices kidnapped her at gunpoint and Hall raped her in the car, according to the DoJ.
They drove Rene to a motel in Arkansas, where she was raped several more times. Afterward she was taken to a park, where she was hit over the head with a shovel, soaked with gasoline and buried alive.
In a statement to Newsweek, Hall’s attorneys said Hall has never denied the role he played in Rene’s death and that his behavior behind bars shows he does not deserve to die.
The attorneys say Hall had been sentenced to death at the recommendation of an all-white jury and that racial bias had been shown in the selection of those jurors.
“The jury that sentenced him to death did not know key facts about his background, and the path toward personal redemption that Mr. Hall has followed in prison shows that he is not among the ‘worst of the worst’ for whom the death penalty is properly reserved,” Marcia A. Widder and Robert C. Owen said.
They say the jurors who decided Hall’s punishment were not aware of the “severe trauma” he experienced growing up. “He and his siblings witnessed almost daily violence in their parents’ marriage,” the attorneys’ statement said.
“Nor did they hear how Mr. Hall first fell into selling illegal drugs when he was left alone to care for his younger brothers after his parents essentially abandoned the younger children.”
The attorneys said jurors also never heard about how he had once saved his 3-year-old nephew’s life by jumping from a second-floor balcony to rescue him from drowning in a motel swimming pool.
“Had jurors known these facts about Mr. Hall, there is every reason to believe they would have spared his life, despite his admitted involvement in a terrible crime,” the attorneys said.
“Mr. Hall will always be deeply ashamed that he allowed events to unfold as they did and participated in taking Lisa Rene’s life.”
The attorneys also said Hall and another man had been “targeted” by the U.S. government for a capital prosecution despite all five defendants playing “substantial roles in the crime.”
They said three were given plea deals in exchange for their testimony against Hall and Bruce Webster—and all three have since served their time and been released from prison. “Under these circumstances, allowing Mr. Hall’s execution to go forward would be a grave injustice,” they said.
Last week, the U.S. government executed Christopher Vialva, 40—the first Black federal death row inmate put to death since federal executions resumed earlier this year. The first five inmates executed were white, while the sixth was Navajo.
Vialva’s lawyer, Susan Otto, also said that race had played a role in his ending up on death row.
Racial bias in the criminal justice system has come under increased scrutiny since the May 25 killing of George Floyd, a Black man, in Minneapolis police custody sparked widespread protests against police brutality and racial injustice.
Last month, the Death Penalty Information Center published a report on the persistence of racial discrimination relating to the U.S. death penalty.
It detailed how Black people are disproportionately sentenced to death and that qualified Black jurors are more likely to be struck from juries than their white counterparts. It also found that Black people who kill white people are far more likely to face capital prosecution than white people who kill Black people.
Of the 55 inmates currently on federal death row, almost half (25) are Black, according to the latest figures from the DPIC, though Black people make up only 13 percent of the population. Forty percent (22) of federal death row inmates are white, seven are Latino and one is Asian.
*story by NewsWeek