Madison County capital murder, death sentence case from 1999 overturned for second time
By Bob Lowry
The Huntsville Times
MONTGOMERY - The capital murder conviction of Jason Michael Sharp for the 1999 rape and stabbing death of a Huntsville nurse was overturned today for the second time by a state appeals court.
The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals ruled prosecutors unfairly excluded some potential black jurors when selecting the jury even though the victim and the defendant were white.
Sharp was arrested on Jan. 15, 1999, in the Jan. 2, 1999, murder-rape of Tracy Lynn Morris.
The appeals court originally upheld Sharp's conviction and sentence, even though there was only one black member on the jury.
But the Alabama Supreme Court on Dec. 4, 2009, reversed a lower court's decision, setting up an April 27, 2010, hearing in Madison County Circuit Court to determine whether prosecutors used their juror strikes in a racially discriminatory manner.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a prosecutor's use of peremptory challenge - the dismissal of jurors without stating a valid cause for doing so - may not be used to exclude jurors based solely on their race.
The trial court ruled on July 16, 2010, that prosecutors' reasons for its peremptory strikes against potential black jurors weren't race-related.
After going through a recitation of why each black juror was struck, however, the appeals court disagreed with the trial court's finding, sending Sharp's case back for a retrial.
Judge Elizabeth Kellum said the state failed to meet its burden to show there was a "race-neutral" explanation for the strikes of African-Americans.
"The state struck a high percentage of African-American jurors and failed to question the potential jurors it struck about many of the reasons it later proffered for its strikes," she wrote.
Because of a series of delays ranging from mental evaluations, DNA testing, requests for the victim's computer, a series of pretrial appeals to the state's appeals courts and a spat over attorney's fees that was settled by an attorney general's opinion, Sharp didn't go to trial until Aug. 21, 2006.
He was found guilty of capital murder Aug. 28, 2006, and sentenced to death the next day.
During the trial, Lynn Morris, the victim's mother, testified she drove to her daughter's home after she didn't show up for dinner and discovered her barely alive on her bedroom floor.
She died at Huntsville Hospital of numerous sharp and blunt force injuries. A forensic scientist testified at Sharp's trial that Morris was beaten and stabbed 37 times with a flathead screwdriver.
Sharp washed and detailed cars that belonged to Morris and her family, the prosecutors said, and developed an obsession for her.