A Black man has been granted a retrial after he was convicted of assault by an all-white jury who deliberated in a room decorated with Confederate symbols.
Tennessee’s Criminal Appeals Court ruled on Friday that Tim Gilbert will receive a new trial after agreeing that a jury could be influenced by symbols of the Confederacy on display in the room where they decided the Black 56-year-old’s fate.
Mr Gilbert was sentenced to six years in prison in June 2020 for aggravated assault, reckless endangerment, unlawful possession of a weapon by a convicted felon and resisting arrest over an alleged incident in 2018.
The jury finding him guilty on the charges reached their decision in the jury chamber at the Giles County Courthouse where a portrait of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and an antique Confederate flag hang on the walls.
The room is also named after the United Daughters of the Confederacy – a group set up in 1894 to honour and commemorate female descendants of Confederate Civil War soldiers.
Mr Gilbert’s legal team had filed an appeal arguing that the Confederate symbols in the room and the jury’s racial make-up meant he was denied his right to a fair trial.
The appeals court judges unanimously agreed on Friday, saying the jury could have been influenced by the Confederate decorations.
“Because the State failed to sufficiently rebut the presumption that the defendant was prejudiced by the jury’s exposure to the Confederate memorabilia in the UDC Room, the defendant is entitled to a new trial,” the ruling read.
“Accordingly, we reverse the judgments of the trial court and remand the case for a new trial.”
The appeals judges also said the prosecution at trial had admitted a “challenged witness statement, and that error cannot be classified as harmless”.
The ruling reversed a lower court’s ruling last year which denied Mr Gilbert’s request for a new trial.
The decision comes amid a national reckoning around racist and Confederate symbols across America following racial justice protests in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. Several statues of Confederate leaders have since been removed in the last year.
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