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California murder convictions overturned because juror who supported Black Lives Matter was dismissed from the case

Photo by Emilie Richardson/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Murder convictions of three California men were overturned because a juror who had ties to Black Lives Matter had been dismissed from the case.

The three men were convicted in 2016 of the murders of a couple in 2012, but an appellate court found that the district attorney in the case had asked "inappropriate" questions of a 25-year-old black juror who was dismissed from the case.

They specifically cited questions related to the woman's support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

The First Appellate District of California said in an unanimous decision Friday that the district attorney had acted in a discriminatory manner.

"Given the prosecutor's inappropriate questioning about Black Lives Matter, the absence of any clear and legitimate nondiscriminatory reasons for striking Juror 275, and the evidence of at least some historical discrimination by the prosecutor and other district attorneys in her office, the court's finding that defendants failed to establish a prima facie case of discrimination lacked substantial evidence," said Justice Jim Humes in the 70-page decision.

Humes later said in the decision that other accusations of racism against the district attorney's office had moved the court's opinion.

"Moreover, there was evidence that the Contra Costa County District Attorney's Office in general, and this prosecutor in particular, had in the past exercised peremptory challenges on the basis of race," he wrote.

The three men, who are all black, were convicted of shooting and murdering Christopher Zinn, 24, and his girlfriend, Brieanna Dow, 21. Their bodies were found in Antioch in October 2012. Prosecutors said that the shooting was gang-related and was in retaliation for Zinn allegedly stealing guns from the group.

The three men had been sentenced to life without the possibility of parole, and were given additional sentences ranging from 57 to 77 years in state prison, according to the East Bay Times.

A spokesman for the district attorney's office responded to the ruling in an email to the East Bay Times.

"Our Office is reviewing the opinion of the court," read the statement. "At this juncture, we intend to retry the defendants and ensure justice in this case."

An attorney for one of the defendants praised the ruling.

"The opinion speaks for itself," said Paul Feuerwerker. "The Court of Appeal was clearly disturbed by some of the questioning by the prosecutor and the trial court's handling of it."

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