The Supreme Court has overturned a murder conviction for Curtis Flowers, a Mississippi man who has been tried for murder six times, saying that the prosecutor violated the Constitution by excluding black potential jurors from the trial.
The Supreme Court ruled 7-2 Friday that Doug Evans, a white prosecutor, unconstitutionally excluded eligible black jurors from Flowers’s trial for murdering four people in 1996 inside a furniture store. Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch dissented.
This isn’t the first time Flowers, who was featured on the second season of the In the Dark podcast from American Public Media, has had his conviction overturned in court. In fact, Evans has tried Flowers six times — 1997, 1999, 2004, 2007, 2008, and 2010 — and, each time, the jury has either failed to reach a verdict or the conviction was thrown out on appeal. In his last trial, in 2010, the jury, made up of one black and 11 white jurors, sentenced him to death.
The conviction was overturned because of how Evans selected his jury. During the jury selection process, prosecutors and defense attorneys question jurors to screen for potential conflicts of interest — an in-depth examination that can often reveal personal information. They will then request the removal of jurors they think will be biased.
Batson v. Kentucky ruled in 1986 that race cannot be a factor in excluding an eligible juror. Lawyers who are accused of racial bias must provide a nondiscriminatory explanation for striking out a potential juror.
American Public Media found as part of the podcast investigation that Evans’s office has long exhibited discriminatory practices. In 225 trials between 1992 and 2017, 50 percent of eligible black jurors were excluded while just 11 percent of eligible white jurors met the same fate.
The same goes for Flowers’s 2010 case: Evans accepted the first eligible black juror and struck the next five, according to the New York Times. Eligible black jurors were also questioned more closely, asking them an average of 29 questions, compared to the one question he asked white potential jurors. Only two of Flowers’s trials has had more than one black juror — and both of those cases ended in hung juries.
Evans claimed he excluded potential black jurors for plausible reasons, including connections to the people involved in the case or to the furniture store where the shooting occurred, according to the New York Times. Flowers’s lawyers, however, said that these standards were not fairly applied to white jurors, and the Supreme Court agreed. Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who wrote the majority opinion, reaffirmed the decision from Batson v. Kentucky.
“Part of Batson was about confidence of the community and the fairness of the criminal justice system,” Kavanaugh said during oral argument in March. “That was against a backdrop of a lot of decades of all-white juries convicting black defendants.”
This decision could be a major turning point for Flowers. Although he was convicted in 1996 for the murder of four people at Tardy Furniture in Winona, Mississippi, he denies any wrongdoing. His death sentence will be dropped and he will be moved from Parchman prison — a prison notorious for its poor conditions — to a county jail near Winona, according to APM.
The big lingering question: Will there be another trial? While Evans told APM in January that a seventh trial was a possibility, he could also offer a plea deal or drop Flowers’s charges completely. Flowers’s lawyers could also request for Evans to be removed from the case entirely.
In the meantime, Evans is on track to be reelected as district attorney in November because, for the fourth election in a row, he is running unopposed.