A black Mississippi death row inmate has had his conviction overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court over the racial make-up of the jury in six trials.
In a ruling on Friday, the high court cited the prosecutor’s discrimination in the case of 49-year-old Curtis Flowers, who was tried six times by the same prosecutor for the murders of four people at a Mississippi furniture store in 1996.
(Video: YouTube/CBS News)
Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito joined the court’s four liberals in the 7-2 ruling with the opinion written by Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh who contended that District Attorney Doug Evans, who is white, repeatedly blocked dozens of black jurors at Flowers’ multiple trials., HuffPost reported.
“The state’s pattern of striking black prospective jurors persisted from Flowers’ first trial through Flowers’ sixth trial,” Kavanaugh wrote, adding that black and white jurors were questioned differently by prosecutors and “struck at least one black prospective juror who was similarly situated to white jurors” at the most recent trial.
Even Alito sided with Curtis Flowers, the capital defendant here. Read his concurrence: pic.twitter.com/R6nD0zFjgX
— Chris Geidner (@chrisgeidner) June 21, 2019
Prosecutor misconduct led to the dismissal of Flowers’ first three trials and the last two before his conviction in 2010 ended with hung juries. Though Flowers was convicted four times, the jury was predominantly white each time. The Supreme Court ruled on the racial prejudice in the case, and not the guilt or innocence of Flowers.
“The numbers speak loudly. Over the course of the first four trials, there were 36 black prospective jurors against whom the State could have exercised a peremptory strike,” Kavanaugh wrote in the opinion, which saw Associate Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch dissenting.
“If the court’s opinion today has a redeeming quality, it is this: The state is perfectly free to convict Curtis Flowers again. Otherwise, the opinion distorts our legal standards, ignores the record, and reflects utter disrespect for the careful analysis of the Mississippi courts,” Thomas said in the dissenting opinion.
According to USA Today:
During oral argument in March, most of the justices seemed convinced that Evans’ history of refusing to seat African American jurors made the case particularly troubling.
Alito noted its “unusual and really disturbing history.” Associate Justice Elena Kagan cited a “staggering” difference in the number of questions posed to black and white potential jurors. Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor said prosecutorial misconduct and improper jury selection tactics showed Evans’ “passion for this case.”
So one-sided was much of the questioning that it fell to Thomas, who rarely speaks in court, to note that Flowers’ attorneys in the 2010 trial used their side’s peremptory strikes only against potential white jurors.
In Friday’s dissent, Thomas noted that “any competent prosecutor would have exercised the same strikes as the state did in this trial,” adding that “although the court’s opinion might boost its self-esteem, it also needlessly prolongs the suffering of four victims’ families.”
But Kavanaugh pointed to the many incidents of racial discrimination in finding that the state of Mississippi “engaged in disparate treatment of black and white prospective jurors.”
“In sum, the State’s pattern of striking black prospective jurors persisted from Flowers’ first trial through Flowers’ sixth trial,” he wrote.
“In the six trials combined, the State struck 41 of the 42 black prospective jurors it could have struck. At the sixth trial, the State struck five of six. At the sixth trial, moreover, the State engaged in dramatically disparate questioning of black and white prospective jurors. And it engaged in disparate treatment of black and white prospective jurors, in particular by striking black prospective juror Carolyn Wright,” Kavanaugh noted.
Flowers, who has been in prison for more than 20 years now, has maintained his innocence and had no prior criminal record before being convicted of the killings that occurred days after he was fired from a job at the furniture store.
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