The Mississippi Supreme Court yesterday threw out the murder conviction of Curtis Flowers—again. Two months ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the prosecutor, Doug Evans, methodically kept blacks off the jury, a clear violation of Flowers’ rights by SCOTUS precedent. Evans is white, Flowers is black, and he has now been tried six times for the same crime, the 1996 murders of four people in a Winona, Mississippi furniture store. Every trial has ended in a mistrial or a conviction that was subsequently overturned on appeal because of prosecutorial conduct.
Just pause and take all of that in for a moment.
Flower is now 61, and has been in prison all this time—22 years– while his various trials have been botched.
I have nothing but questions. Like…
- How does the prosecutor, Evans, still have a job?
- Why did judges allow him to obviously prevent blacks from being empaneled on juries, when the law on this practice is clear, well-known, and long-standing?
In four of the trials, held between 1997 and 200, Evans used all 36 of his peremptory challenges to strike potential black jurors. The jury at the sixth trial convicted Flowers in 2010 and sentenced him to death. It was composed of one black and 11 white jurors. The Mississippi Supreme Court had affirmed that conviction and sentence. How? Why? During jury selection, Evans asked blacks in the juror pool an average of 29 questions each, while asking the 11 white jurors who were eventually seated an exactly one question in all but a couple of cases.
I have no idea if Flowers is guilty or not. He probably is; I’m sure Evans thinks he is. It doesn’t matter: guilty of not, the man has a right to fair trial. Does Mississippi not comprehend this basic fact of American law? How do unethical, incompetent prosecutors like Evans continue to savage the justice system without being removed from office and getting disbarred?
This is not an isolated case, just an unusually egregious one.
Finally, why isn’t there a statutory limit, or a judicial one, on the number of “bites at the apple” the prosecution gets before a defendant has to be declared free and immune from further persecution? I can think of several ways what has been done to Flowers is unconstitutional—right to a speedy trial, for example. Shouldn’t this mean a right to a fair, valid, completed trial? Flowers has been waiting for one of those for more than two decades.
A award-winning podcast on the Flowers fiasco is here.
A documentary is here.
Pointer: Esther Covington