The Supreme Court ordered a new trial for a Mississippi death row inmate who was tried for the same crime six times by a prosecutor accused of showing a pattern of racial bias in the jury selection process.
Curtis Flowers, 49, spent 22 years on death row for the 1996 fatal shooting of four employees inside a furniture store in Winona. In a 7-2 ruling, the Supreme Court found Friday that prosecutor Doug Evans violated the Constitution by excluding black jurors for Flowers’ sixth capital murder trial.
During the jury selection process, Evans asked black jurors an average of 29 questions each and white jurors an average of one question each. The prosecutor claimed he excluded black jurors because they knew Flowers or his relatives, sued the furniture store where the slayings transpired, had issues with the death penalty, or arrived late for jury selection, according to The New York Times.
The sixth jury—comprised of one black and 11 white jurors—convicted Flowers in 2010 and sentenced him to death.
The Washington Post noted that only two of the six trials had more than one black juror and that both trials resulted in a hung jury. The state Supreme Court threw out three of Flowers’ convictions, finding prosecutorial misconduct.
The Supreme Court wasn’t determining Flowers’ guilt, but exploring whether Evans’ actions as prosecutor were constitutional. NPR noted that the case also touched on misleading or deceiving the jury about evidence that didn’t exist and eliminating prospective jurors based on race.
“One can slice and dice the statistics and come up with all sorts of ways to compare the state’s questioning of excluded black jurors with the state’s questioning of the accepted white jurors,” Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh wrote for the majority. “But any meaningful comparison yields the same basic assessment: The state spent far more time questioning the black prospective jurors than the accepted white jurors.”
Writing for the minority, Justice Clarence Thomas held there was no evidence the state practiced “purposeful race discrimination” during the jury selection process. He also expressed concern that the Court’s willingness to hear the case was influenced by the media. Flowers’ case received national attention in 2018 after American Public Media covered it for an episode of their podcast, “In the Dark.”
“If the Court’s opinion today has a redeeming quality, it is this: The State is perfectly free to convict Curtis Flowers again,” Thomas wrote. “And although the Court’s opinion might boost its self-esteem, it also needlessly prolongs the suffering of four victims’ families.”
For the latest true crime and justice news, subscribe to ‘Crime Stories with Nancy Grace’. Listen to a related podcast below:
[Featured image: Curtis Flowers/Mississippi Department of Corrections]