Jews Were Excluded From California County’s Death Penalty Juries for Decades, New Evidence Reveals

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A group calling itself Jews Against the Death Penalty protests outside a courthouse in Pittsburgh on June 27, 2023. (Ron Kampeas via JTA/.org)

Jackie Hajdenberg

As many as 35 death-row cases in a California county could be under review for discriminatory practices, including the exclusion of both Black female and Jewish jurors.

The cases in Alameda County date as far back as 1977.


During jury selection in one murder case from the 1990s, the prosecution left handwritten notes about prospective jurors — including whether they were Jewish or Black.

“I liked him better than any other Jew, but no way,” one note said. “Must kick.”

One note characterizes the prospective juror as, “Banker. Jew?” followed by, “Nice guy — thoughtful but never a strong DP leader — Jewish background.” “DP” means “death penalty.”

Another note simply says at the top, “Jew? Yes.”

California has had a moratorium on the death penalty as of 2019, but at least three people have been resentenced due to the early findings of the Alameda County review.

The intentional exclusion of Black and Jewish people, or any other group, from participating in a jury is illegal.

Prosecutors may have wanted to keep Jews off juries to increase chances of a death sentence.  A 2016 Gallup poll found that, when compared with other religious groups, Jews are less supportive of capital punishment — though 54% still believed it to be “morally acceptable.”

“When you intentionally exclude people based on their race, their religion, their gender or any protected category, it violates the Constitution,” Alameda County district attorney Pamela Price said at a news conference April 22. “The evidence that we have uncovered suggests plainly that many people did not receive a fair trial in Alameda County.”

The allegations of discrimination came to light in 2023 during an appeal on a death penalty case for Ernest Dykes, who was charged and sentenced in 1995 for murdering a 9-year-old boy during the robbery and attempted murder of his mother. A deputy district attorney discovered “handwritten notes by prosecutors which appear to show that they intentionally excluded Jewish and Black female jurors from the jury pool,” the District Attorney’s Office of Alameda County said in a statement.

“These notes — especially when considered in conjunction with evidence presented in other cases — constitute strong evidence that, in prior decades, prosecutors from the office were engaged in a pattern of serious misconduct, automatically excluding Jewish and African American jurors in death penalty cases,” Judge Vince Chhabria wrote in an April 22 court order.

This is not the first time allegations of religious and racial bias against Jewish and Black jurors have turned up in jury selection in Alameda County. Many Jewish activists have advocated against the death penalty, often focusing on opposition to the use of gas chambers as a form of execution.

In 2005, John Quatman, who worked for 26 years as a deputy district attorney, said trial judge Stanley Golde, presiding over a 1987 murder and robbery case, advised him during jury selection that “no Jew would vote to send a defendant to the gas chamber” and reference the Israeli sentencing of Adolf Eichmann, an architect of the Holocaust.

“He said I could not have a Jew on the jury, and asked me if I was aware that when Adolf Eichmann was apprehended after World War II, there was a major controversy in Israel over whether he should be executed,” Quatman said at the time. Eichman was put to death.

“Judge Golde was only telling me what I already should have known to do,” Quatman said in his statement. “It was standard practice to exclude Jewish jurors in death cases.”

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