Supreme Court Weighs In on Unprecedented Murder Case

Justices toss latest conviction of Curtis Flowers, who's already had 6 murder trials for same crime
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 21, 2019 11:25 AM CDT
He's Been Tried 6 Times for Same Crime. It May Soon Be 7
This 2017 photo provided by Mississippi Department of Corrections shows Curtis Flowers.   (Mississippi Department of Corrections via AP)

A white district attorney in Mississippi has tried black defendant Curtis Flowers no fewer than six times for the murder of four people in a furniture store in 1996. That amounts to a "prosecutorial pursuit that may be without parallel," per the Washington Post. Now, thanks to a Supreme Court ruling on Friday, DA Doug Evans has to decide whether to try Flowers a seventh time. The court overturned the most recent conviction, from 2010, and left it up to Mississippi to decide what happens next, reports the Jackson Clarion Ledger. The big issue: The justices found that Evans improperly removed black people from juries. Details:

  • The decision: The court ruled 7-2 in favor of Flowers, who has spent 22 years on Mississippi's death row. "The numbers speak loudly," wrote Justice Brett Kavanaugh in the majority opinion, per NPR. "Over the course of the first four trials, there were 36 black prospective jurors against whom the State could have exercised a peremptory strike. The State tried to strike all 36." Overall, the numbers were 41 of 42, he noted. Read the full opinion here.
  • The dissent: Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch dissented. "The majority's opinion is so manifestly incorrect that I must proceed to the merits," Thomas wrote. "Flowers presented no evidence whatsoever of purposeful race discrimination by the State." He added this: "If the Court's opinion today has a redeeming quality, it is this: The State is perfectly free to convict Curtis Flowers again."

  • The murders: On July, 16, 1996, four employees of Tardy Furniture were shot to death in the store in the small town of Winona, Mississippi. Flowers was a former employee, and prosecutors depicted him as disgruntled. He had no criminal history before the case. The victims ranged in age from 16 to 59. The Clarion Ledger has a separate file on the murders here.
  • The trials: Only two had more than one black juror, and those trials ended in hung juries. Three resulted in convictions that were overturned because of "prosecutorial misconduct"—including Evans' maneuvering to keep the juries all or mostly white. The Clarion Ledger has brief snapshots of the trials here. The sixth trial resulted in a conviction, but now that one is overturned, too. The latter trial had one black juror.
  • The numbers: Of the 72 total jurors in the six trials, 61 were white. All found Flowers guilty. Of the 11 black jurors, five found him guilty.
  • The issue: Attorneys are given wide latitude to exclude a certain number of jurors without providing a reason, but a 1986 decision (Batson v. Kentucky) made it unconstitutional for a juror to be excluded solely because of race, the New York Times explains. The rule can be easily evaded, but the court on Friday ruled that Evans' stated reasons for excluding jurors who were black in the sixth trial weren't good enough.
  • What now: No word yet on whether Mississippi will go for a seventh trial. Flowers is expected to remain incarcerated in the interim.
(During oral arguments in the case, Thomas broke a three-year silence to ask questions from the bench.)

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