Man Pleads Guilty After Verdict Tossed

DALLAS (AP) -- A man who was on death row for nearly 20 years until the U.S. Supreme Court overturned his verdict because of racial discrimination has pleaded guilty to the 1985 slaying for which he was originally sentenced to die.

Thomas Miller-El accepted a deal with prosecutors Wednesday that spares the 56-year-old from heading to death row for a second time but virtually assures he will never leave prison.

A judge sentenced Miller-El to life in prison after he pleaded guilty to capital murder and aggravated robbery in the killing of Holiday Inn clerk Douglas Walker during a robbery. Walker and co-worker Donald Ray Hall were bound, gagged and shot. Hall, who was paralyzed in the shooting, identified Miller-El as the triggerman.

He waived his right to appeal in exchange for prosecutors not seeking the death penalty.

The plea should end a two decades-old saga in which Miller-El, who is black, had his original conviction tossed in 2005 by the high court on the grounds of racial discrimination in jury selection.

The Supreme Court cited a manual, written in 1969 and used until at least 1980, that instructed prosecutors on how to exclude minorities from Texas juries. Supreme Court Justice David H. Souter called racial discrimination in Dallas County's jury selection process unquestionable.

Miller-El was sentenced to death row in 1986 by a 12-member jury that included one black man. Prosecutors struck 10 of the 11 blacks eligible to serve.

Doug Parks, Miller-El's attorney, said he believes jury selection practices have evolved since his client's original conviction.

"There has been, over time, a change in attitude," Parks said. "The attitude currently in the DA's office is not conducive to the tone that existed back when Mr. Miller-El's case was tried."

Mike Heiskell, the special prosecutor assigned to the case, said the plea bargain "was the most advantageous way to end this case." He said he believed another jury would find Miller-El guilty but was unsure if it would return a death sentence.

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