Rufus Henry, a Black Man, was convicted by 10 white jurors as two Black jurors dissented; non-unanimous juries since ruled unconstitutional
June 7, 2022, St. Landry Parish, Louisiana – Rufus Henry, a Black man convicted of second-degree murder by a non-unanimous jury, has been released on parole after spending thirty-one years in the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. Henry, 69, said at trial that he acted in self-defense; all ten white jurors voted to convict him, and the two sole Black jurors voted to acquit him. The non-unanimous jury system persists as a relic of Jim Crow, civil rights advocates say, and the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional in its 2020 ruling, Ramos v. Louisiana.
Several family members welcomed Mr. Henry home on Friday, June 3. He will, he says, continue to hone the artisanship that helped him endure three decades of incarceration in one of the country’s most notorious prisons: building grandfather clocks. While incarcerated, Henry taught himself how to build elaborate and functional clocks out of matchsticks, nail clippers, and glue. He has completed hundreds over the past three decades; some stand more than six-feet tall.
“I really appreciate the hard work that my lawyers did to get me where I am,” Henry said. “It was a long, hard fight for me to get where I am today. I thank my lawyers, but most of all I thank God for blessing me with my lawyers. He knew I needed y’all. One thing I can say is that y’all stuck with me every part of the way. I’ll never forget it as long as I live.”
In 2021, lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights submitted a petition seeking to overturn Mr. Henry’s conviction as part of a Promise of Justice initiative in which more than 700 volunteer lawyers from across the country filed petitions on behalf of more than 1,000 people convicted by non-unanimous juries in Louisiana. The Louisiana Supreme Court’s pending ruling in State of Louisiana v. Reginald Reddick will determine if the state applies Ramos retroactively and thereby clears the names of all those found guilty by so-called Jim Crow Juries.
“Rufus Henry’s release from Angola is welcome, overdue, and bittersweet,” remarked Angelo Guisado, Senior Staff Attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights. “Though the Supreme Court was unequivocal in its denouncement of non-unanimity, it prostrated itself powerless in the face of retroactive application. What of the other thousand individuals who remain behind bars? They deserve their freedom, too.”
The Center for Constitutional Rights has also submitted a petition seeking to overturn the conviction of Matthew Allen, another Black man serving a life-sentence at Angola after being convicted of second-degree murder by the ten white members of a non-unanimous jury. In addition, along with Bill Quigley of Loyola Law School, the organization submitted an amicus brief for the Reddick case, arguing that non-unanimous juries are a vestige of slavery and, as such, violate the norms and spirit of the 13th Amendment.
In 2018, 64 percent of Louisiana voters approved an amendment to the state’s constitution that abolished non-unanimous juries but did not provide relief to those previously convicted by such verdicts. At the time, Louisiana and Oregon were the only states still allowing felony convictions with non-unanimous juries, and only in Louisiana could a judge sentence someone to life without the possibility of parole when a jury did not reach a unanimous verdict.
Non-unanimous juries, which white supremacists codified into Louisiana's constitution in 1898, helped turn the state into a capital of incarceration. Louisiana imprisons a higher percentage of residents than any other state – and any country in the world – and although African-Americans make up about a third of the population, they represent about two-thirds of the prison population.
For more information, see the Center for Constitutional Rights case page.
The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, the Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Learn more at ccrjustice.org.