On Federal Death Row Since 1998, Seeking Justice
Billie Jerome Allen has been on federal death row for well over half his life. Now 45, he was 19 at the time of the crime for which he was sentenced to death in 1998 despite racial bias affecting his case, his age at the time of the crime, and lack of evidence linking him to the crime.
The jury consisted of 10 white and two Black jurors even though the crime occurred in St. Louis where the Black population is around 46% of the total population.
In 2009, Billie Allen’s appeal lawyers sought an evidentiary hearing on racial disparity, noting that of the 460 federal defendants against whom the US Attorney General had by then authorized prosecutors to seek the death penalty, 119 were white and 341 were from minority racial or ethnic groups, of whom 237 were Black. The government successfully argued that the race claim failed under the US Supreme Court’s 1987 McCleskey v. Kemp decision which requires proof that the decision-makers in the case had acted with discriminatory purpose. The McCleskey ruling is an obstacle to successful claims of systemic racism in capital cases, and in the absence of legislative remedy, has left the USA on the wrong side of its obligations under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, ratified by the USA in 1994 and requiring States parties to work to eliminate intentional discrimination and discrimination in effect.
Billie Allen’s lawyers have sought DNA testing of evidence, which they say could exculpate him, but for years the government has refused this. Police recovered blood evidence from a bulletproof vest worn by one of the assailants. DNA testing excluded the murder victim and Billie Allen as sources of the blood. The government has said that this blood evidence was not assessed against the DNA profile of Billie Allen’s co-defendant, but instead apparently presumed that more DNA testing would only provide additional evidence against that co-defendant, with no other possible result. Billie Allen has named another man as the most likely second assailant. If DNA testing were to identify this individual (who died in 1998), this would bolster his innocence case.
U.S. Federal Death Penalty
- The US Government has carried out 16 executions since 1976 – three under President George W. Bush in 2001 and 2003 and 13 under President Donald Trump in 2020 and 2021.
- Eleven of the 16 executions (69%) were of individuals tried and convicted in the South, the region where 82% of those executed at state level since 1976 were sentenced to death. Six of the 16 (37%) were tried in Texas, which accounts for 38% of all state executions in the USA since 1976.
- Of the 43 people on federal death row in March 2023, 19 were white, 17 were Black, six were Hispanic and one was Asian. Of the 43 individuals, 31 (72%) were tried in federal court in the South, Texas alone accounting for seven of the 42 (16%). Seventeen of the 43 (40%) were tried in federal court in three states – Texas (seven), Virginia (six) and Missouri (four). These three states account for half of all state executions in the USA since 1976.
- President Biden took office in 2021 on a pledge to work for abolition of the federal death penalty and for states to do the same. In mid-2021, US Attorney General Merrick Garland – who has voiced concern about the death penalty’s “disparate impact on Black Americans” – announced a moratorium on federal executions pending a narrow review of procedures. While pursuit of the death penalty has been dropped in some cases, the Biden administration has continued to pursue or defend the death penalty in others.
Join AIUSA urging President Biden to grant clemency to Billie Allen and all individuals on federal death row.