A Tennessee man has been awarded a new trial after an appeals court ruled that the room where the jury for his trial met led to a biased and unfair judgment against him because it was filled with Confederate memorabilia.
Tim Stelloh of NBC News reported that “a Black man’s criminal conviction was overturned in Tennessee after an appeals court said the jury, which deliberated in a room adorned with a Confederate flag and a portrait of Jefferson Davis, had been ‘exposed’ to ‘improper influence.’”
In a 31-page decision, the Tennessee criminal court of appeals ruled that Tim Gilbert deserved a new trial because of implicit racism and bias jury members may have experienced from being surrounded by Confederate ephemera.
According to Stelloh, “Gilbert was arrested after a family dispute on Christmas Eve three years ago in Murfreesboro, southeast of Nashville. A grand jury indicted him the following April on charges of reckless endangerment, unlawful possession of a firearm and resisting arrest, and he was convicted in a jury trial last year.”
Following his conviction, the jurors that met to discuss Gilbert’s case deliberated in what’s known as the “UDC room” of the Giles County Courthouse, which is overseen and maintained by the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
According to Stelloh, James Curwood Witt Jr., the appeals judge who wrote the decision in Gilbert’s favor, “noted that it wasn’t clear how the private group came to ‘possess’ the room nearly a century ago or add its emblem to the door in 2005.”
“Gilbert’s lawyers argued that having a room ‘festooned’ with Confederate memorabilia and maintained by the UDC implied that the court ‘subscribes to the confederate principles’ and that, to many, ‘the confederacy and racism go hand in hand,'” Stelloh added.
The decision in Gilbert’s favor goes even further, stating, “’the symbols on that wall do nothing but embolden jurors to act on racial animus.”