Court tosses black man's murder conviction over racial bias





WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court on Friday threw out the murder conviction and death sentence for a black man in Mississippi because of a prosecutor's efforts to keep African Americans off the jury. The defendant already has been tried six times and now could face a seventh trial.

The removal of black prospective jurors deprived inmate Curtis Flowers of a fair trial, the court said in a 7-2 decision written by Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

The long record of Flowers' trials stretching back more than 20 years shows District Attorney Doug Evans' "relentless, determined effort to rid the jury of black individuals," with the goal of an all-white jury, Kavanaugh wrote.

In Flowers' sixth trial, the jury was made up of 11 whites and one African American. Prosecutor Evans struck five black prospective jurors.

In the earlier trials, three convictions were tossed out, including one when the prosecutor improperly excluded African Americans from the jury. In the second trial, the judge chided Evans for striking a juror based on race. Two other trials ended when jurors couldn't reach unanimous verdicts.

"The numbers speak loudly," Kavanaugh said in a summary of his opinion that he read in the courtroom, noting that Evans had removed 41 of the 42 prospective black jurors over the six trials. "We cannot ignore that history."

In dissent, Justice Clarence Thomas called Kavanaugh's opinion "manifestly incorrect" and wrote that Flowers "presented no evidence whatsoever of purposeful race discrimination." Justice Neil Gorsuch joined most of Thomas' opinion.

Thomas, the only African American on the court, said the decision may have one redeeming quality: "The state is perfectly free to convict Curtis Flowers again."

Flowers has been in jail more than 22 years, since his arrest after four people were found shot to death in a furniture store in Winona, Mississippi, in July 1996.

Flowers was arrested several months later, described by prosecutors as a disgruntled former employee who sought revenge against the store's owner because she fired him and withheld most of his pay to cover the cost of merchandise he damaged. Nearly $300 was found missing after the killings.

Defense lawyers have argued that witness statements and physical evidence against Flowers are too weak to convict him. A jailhouse informant who claimed Flowers had confessed to him recanted in recorded telephone conversations with American Public Media's "In the Dark" podcast. A separate appeal is pending in state court questioning Flowers' actual guilt, citing in part evidence that reporters for "In the Dark" detailed.

"A seventh trial would be unprecedented, and completely unwarranted given both the flimsiness of the evidence against him and the long trail of misconduct that has kept him wrongfully incarcerated all these years. We hope that the state of Mississippi will finally disavow Doug Evans' misconduct, decline to pursue yet another trial and set Mr. Flowers free," Sheri Lynn Johnson, who represented Flowers at the Supreme Court, said in an emailed statement.

Evans said he remained confident of Flowers guilt but hadn't decided on retrial, according to American Public Media. However, he denied trying to exclude African Americans from the jury.

In the course of selecting a jury, lawyers can excuse a juror merely because of a suspicion that a particular person would vote against their client. Those are called peremptory strikes, and they have been the focus of the complaints about discrimination.

The Supreme Court tried to stamp out discrimination in the composition of juries in Batson v. Kentucky in 1986. The court ruled then that jurors couldn't be excused from service because of their race and set up a system by which trial judges could evaluate claims of discrimination and the race-neutral explanations by prosecutors.

Justice Thurgood Marshall, who had been the nation's pre-eminent civil rights attorney, was part of the Batson case majority, but he said the only way to end discrimination in jury selection was to eliminate peremptory strikes.

Flowers' case has been to the high court before. In 2016, the justices ordered Mississippi's top court to re-examine racial bias issues in Flowers' case following a high court ruling in favor of a Georgia inmate because of a racially discriminatory jury. But the Mississippi justices divided 5-4 in upholding the verdict against Flowers. The state, defending the conviction, said the justices must narrow the focus from Evans' broader record to the case at hand.

But Kavanaugh said that even on the narrower basis, there is evidence that at least one prospective black juror for the sixth trial, Carolyn Wright, was similarly situated to white jurors and was improperly excused by Evans.

"The trial court clearly erred in ruling that the state's peremptory strike of Wright was not motivated in substantial part by discriminatory intent," Kavanaugh wrote.

___

Associated Press writer Jeff Amy contributed to this story from Jackson, Mississippi.

COMMENTS

More Related News

Census Bureau seeks state data, including citizenship info
Census Bureau seeks state data, including citizenship info

The U.S. Census Bureau is asking states for drivers' license records that typically include citizenship data and has made a new request for information on recipients of government assistance, alarming some civil rights advocates. The two approaches, documented by The Associated Press, come amid

India tightens security clampdown ahead of divisive temple ruling
India tightens security clampdown ahead of divisive temple ruling

Authorities have tightened security restrictions in the northern Indian flashpoint city of Ayodhya ahead of a crucial Supreme Court ruling over the disputed site fiercely contested between Hindus and Muslims. Hindus and Muslims have for decades been bitterly divided over the 16th-century Babri mosque in Ayodhya, a city in Uttar Pradash state. The Supreme Court is expected to conclude on October 17 hearings into appeals against a key 2010 court ruling that both groups should split the site, with Hindus granted the lion's share.

No longer an issue for quarterbacks, race remains an issue for coaches
No longer an issue for quarterbacks, race remains an issue for coaches

As the NFL's 100th season continues to unfold, the anniversary of a significant milestone passed just four days ago. On October 9, 2000, the Bucs and Vikings met on Monday Night Football. It was the first game ever played between two teams with African-American coaches (Tony Dungy and Dennis Green

Anxiety over Supreme Court arguments pervades Coming Out Day
Anxiety over Supreme Court arguments pervades Coming Out Day

National Coming Out Day festivities were tempered this year by anxiety that some LGBT folk may have to go back into the closet so they can make a living, depending on what the Supreme Court decides about workplace discrimination law. "I want all members of our community to feel supported by the government, and often for a lot of us and a lot of friends of mine, it's the first time that they feel represented," said Jessica Goldberg, a bisexual senior at the University of Colorado Denver. This year that includes Philadelphia's OutFest on Sunday, billed as the largest National Coming Out Day event, many LGBT people said.

For Sen. Susan Collins, a tough reelection got a lot tougher with Trump impeachment inquiry
For Sen. Susan Collins, a tough reelection got a lot tougher with Trump impeachment inquiry

Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine faces a dilemma with the Trump impeachment question. It looms larger over her reelection campaign in 2020.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with *

Cancel reply

Comments

Top News: Latin America

facebook
Hit "Like"
Don't miss any important news
Thanks, you don't need to show me this anymore.