The Supreme Court reversed the most recent conviction of Curtis Flowers, a black Mississippi man who has been tried an extraordinary six times for a quadruple murder in 1996, finding that a zealous prosecutor once again had improperly kept African Americans off the jury, the Washington Post reports.
The case was decided on a 7-to-2 vote, with Justice Brett Kavanaugh writing the opinion. He said it broke no new legal ground, but reinforced the court’s rulings about when a prosecutor’s bias eliminated a potential juror. Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch dissented.
Six times, District Attorney Doug Evans, who is white, has attempted to convict Flowers, who is black, in what the Post calls “a prosecutorial pursuit that may be without parallel.” Flowers was charged with executing four people inside Tardy Furniture Store in the small town of Winona, Ms.
Two trials, the only ones with more than one African American on the panel, resulted in hung juries. Three convictions were overturned by the Mississippi Supreme Court for prosecutorial misconduct and improper maneuvering by Evans to keep blacks off the jury.
The state said Evans had offered race-neutral reasons in the most recent trial, in 2010, when the prosecutor struck five of six black potential jurors.
The Supreme Court was not considering the evidence against Flowers, but looking at Evans’s prosecutorial tactics.
In his dissent, Thomas said the court did not dispute Flowers was convicted by an impartial jury.
“Today’s decision distorts the record of this case, eviscerates our standard of review, and vacates four murder convictions because the state struck a juror who would have been stricken by any competent attorney,” he wrote. He added: “If the court’s opinion today has a redeeming quality, it is this: The state is perfectly free to convict Curtis Flowers again.”
Prosecutors and defense attorneys may use what are known as peremptory challenges. They can strike potential jurors they simply don’t want on the jury, and generally those choices cannot be second-guessed.
In a 1986 case, Batson v. Kentucky, the Supreme Court said the challenges could not be used to strike a potential juror because of his or her race. Gender was later added as a forbidden purpose.
In Friday’s ruling, Kavanaugh said that the effect of the high court decision was to “simply enforce and reinforce Batson by applying it to the extraordinary facts of this case.”
In February, a team of investigative reporters and producers at American Public Media Reports was awarded the Runner-Up prize in the series category of the annual John Jay College/Harry Frank Guggenheim 2019 Awards for Excellence in Criminal Justice Reporting for their reporting on the Flowers case.
Based in Mississippi for nearly a year, the team produced their series for the second season of “In the Dark,” revealing misconduct by the prosecutor, as well as a 25-year pattern of malfeasance that included systematically striking African Americans from jury trials.