Messy Case, Messy Issues, Messy Commentary: The Trials of Curtis Flowers

The basic facts of the Curtis Flowers murder case are these: On the morning of July 16, 1996, someone walked into a furniture store in downtown Winona, Mississippi, and shot four employees in the head. Police charged  Curtis Flowers with all four murders. After 22 years of trials, mistrials and reversals, Flowers has faced juries six times for the same crime. He has been on death row since the first conviction, and the most recent one is being appealed. Many believe he is innocent.

I think it can be stipulated that this has been a badly botched prosecution, whether Flowers is innocent or not. There is no limit on how many times someone can be tried for the same crime, as long as the trials end in mistrials or convictions. The Flowers case suggests that we need a limit. If the system can’t get a conviction properly after a reasonable number of attempts—I don’t know what a reasonable number is, but I am confident that it is less than six—then the accused should go free. So far, Flowers has been in prison for over two decades without being convicted. That’s wrong.

It would be nice and reassuring if a knee-jerk liberal columnist like the New York Times’ David Leonhardt, whose background is in journalism and mathematics, not law, could inform the public about an outrageous case like this without mucking it up with ideological leaps of logic, unwarranted conclusions and progressive talking points. He can’t help himself, though.

Pity.

For his entire op-ed, he relies on this podcast about the case. A podcast about a legal case is like a documentary: it has a point of view baked into it. I admire the podcast, but it isn’t evidence. It isn’t the trial transcripts, or the decisions overturning the three convictions that were found to be flawed. Never mind: the Times writer sees “no good reason to believe that Curtis Flowers is guilty.”

That’s an irresponsible and incompetent statement. He wasn’t at any of the trials. He wasn’t on the jury. He didn’t observe the defendant during a trial. Mostly he has listened to a podcast, which is a second-hand analysis, making his third hand at best. Has he listened to any podcast arguing that Flowers is guilty? No, because there isn’t one. Until a jury hears the evidence and renders a verdict that stands up in appeal, nobody can say there is “no good reason” to believe that Curtis Flowers is guilty, or no good reason to say he is innocent. Until Flowers is found guilty, however, he is not guilty in the eyes of the law. That, however, has nothing to do with factual innocence.

Leonhardt also makes the unwarranted and unethical assumption that the last verdict against Flowers must be the result of there being only one African American on his  jury. The fact that one of the reversals was based on unconstitutional bias in jury selection does not mean, nor does the record show, that the black jurors believed in Flowers innocence. This is a popular white liberal and black race-baiter fantasy: whites and blacks are both incapable of putting racial biases aside when sitting on juries. In the last trial, the one black juror must have voted to convict: how does that square with Leonhardt’s assumption? There was a mistrial when more blacks were on the jury in a previous trial, but the writer doesn’t know what they thought or how they voted. He just assumes he knows, because of their color.

Nice. And typical.

Leonhardt then leaps to a gross generality from the single case: “The United States suffers from a crisis of unjust imprisonment. The crisis has been caused partly by powerful, unaccountable prosecutors, like [Flowers prosecutor] Doug Evans  And the costs are borne overwhelmingly by black men, like Flowers.”

What exactly is a “crisis?” How many wrongly convicted men makes it a crisis? One is too many, but perfection is impossible with any system. There is crisis of long standing in the failure of the system to insist on proper accountability for incompetent and unethical prosecutors, but neither Leonhardt nor anyone else knows how many wrongly prosecuted and convicted prisoners are in our institutions.

Then Leonhardt writes, “We now know that dozens of innocent people have been executed in recent decades.” The statement is false. Nobody knows that. There are institutions and websites that track such matters. One of them, the anti-death penalty Death Penalty Information Center, writes, “There is no way to tell how many of the more than 1,470 people executed since 1976 may also have been innocent. Courts do not generally entertain claims of innocence when the defendant is dead. Defense attorneys move on to other cases where clients’ lives can still be saved.” It then lists 15—not “dozens”— of men executed since 1989 who might have been innocent. Might. What does Leonhardt really “know,” then? Not much, but he’s happy to pass on his false certainty to Times readers.

Then Leonhardt neatly segues to the current progressive agenda cause of “mass incarceration,” thus mixing murderous apples with non-violent oranges.  The thrust of the mass incarceration reform position is that the U.S. locks up too many non-violent offenders, and since blacks make up a disproportionate number of such offenders, this is racially biased in effect if not intent. Murderers, however, are not non-violent, and substituting the actual murderer that Leonhardt is certain—he’s heard the podcast, after all!—is out there for Curtis Flowers won’t change the size of the prison population one bit.

 

17 Comments

Filed under "bias makes you stupid", Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, Race

17 responses to “Messy Case, Messy Issues, Messy Commentary: The Trials of Curtis Flowers

  1. “There is no limit on how many times someone can be tried for the same crime, as long as the trials end in … convictions.

    Only in the case that those convictions are appealed right???

    Someone sitting out their conviction uncontested in jail can’t be hauled out to sit another trial for that crime can they?

    I’m not familiar with this aspect of what is and what is not double jeopardy.

  2. Inquiring Mind

    Flowers is luckier than the reputations of the prosecutors, judges, and jurors who have heard his case over the last 22 years.

    He has a chance to defend himself and prove his innocence.

    The prosecutors, judges, and jurors don’t have much of a chance to defend themselves against the charge of racism leveled by Leonhardt and others – much less prove their innocence of the charge.

  3. He has been on death row since the first conviction, and the most recent one is being appealed. Many believe he is innocent.

    So far, Flowers has been in prison for over two decades without being convicted. That’s wrong.

    This makes my brain hurt…but I’ll move along to read the rest of the post.

    • Chris Marschner

      Tim,
      What I believe Jack is saying is if the prosecution cannot convict after several attempts the person should be let go.

      This makes sense because if the prosecution sees the trial going against the state they can create a situation for a mistrial and get a second bite at the apple to fix their mistake. Even if the prosecution is diligent and aggressive in prosecuting the case but the juries keep coming back hung the prosecution should be barred from keeping a man or woman incarcerated without a conviction indefinitely. If the state cannot prove their case then the defendent should be freed.

      • I think my point was that even if we discount the 3 tossed convictions as “not convicted”, we currently (as I understand it, correct me if I’m wrong) have a conviction in the 6th trial that was upheld by MS Supreme Court in 2014. In 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court told state justices to review whether there was discrimination in how some black people were excluded as potential jurors. In November 2017, state justices said they found no discrimination. In February 2018 they reaffirmed that November ruling.

        So – we have a conviction on the books since 2010 – it’s not fair to say he’s been in prison for 2 decades without conviction.

        • Chris Marschner

          I see your point. Your explanation makes that clear.

          • Chris Marschner

            Obviously there was a conviction at som point so my understanding was erroneous. That said, I fully understand why a prosecuter might retry. An appellate reversal based on a procedural error would not necessarily render the accused innocent and would not serve justice.

            At some point the process the process to establish guilt or innocence must end barring uncontravertable evidence of innocence.

            As a non-lawyer my understanding that appeals were based on matters of law not fact therefore a prosecuter that boogers up their case with procedural mistakes several times should not be allowed to keep trying until they get it right – they should be terminated for incompetence.

            • Tim LeVier

              Perhaps, but that assumes it was the same prosecutor. However, another complication here is that the 1st case was for a single murder, the 2nd case was for single different murder (same incident), the 3rd case was for all 4 murders together. Theoretically, only cases 3-6 are the same trial and #6 is not in question as a failure or improper, it’s sticking. So in all, they had 3 failures and sufficiently succeeded on the 4th attempt. Shall we see if the prosecutors for the 3 failures were all the same?

    • Greg

      I understand why they’re allowed to keep him in prison. The shocking thing to me is that they are allowed to keep him on death row, which is a living hell, when he hasn’t been properly convicted of any death penalty offense.

      • But he has been properly convicted – since 2010. Appeal failed in 2014. SCOTUS remanded a review of discrimination in juror selection in 2016. 2018 – no discrimination found, 2010 conviction stands.

  4. JP

    “Leonhardt also makes the unwarranted and unethical assumption that the last verdict against Flowers must be the result of there being only one African American on his jury. The fact that one of the reversals was based on unconstitutional bias in jury selection does not mean, nor does the record show, that the black jurors believed in Flowers innocence. This is a popular white liberal and black race-baiter fantasy: whites and blacks are both incapable of putting racial biases aside when sitting on juries. In the last trial, the one black juror must have voted to convict: how does that square with Leonhardt’s assumption? There was a mistrial when more blacks were on the jury in a previous trial, but the writer doesn’t know what they thought or how they voted. He just assumes he knows, because of their color.”

    He might be mixing up trails five and six. Trail six had 1 black man, but he was convicted after 30 minutes. The others were released because of personal ties to the defendant and his family, while others were excused because they said they would be unable to consider the death penalty. According to wiki there were three black people on the jury and one of them held out. He was found in perjury, but the charges were later dropped due to evidence.

    I tried to verify the makeup of the trial, but I couldn’t find it, so I don’t know if wiki is correct. The link is broken.

    If you are interested, this link extensively lists the various trials and includes testimony.
    https://caselaw.findlaw.com/ms-supreme-court/1878694.html

  5. JP

    The three to nine ratio should refer to trial five.

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