The U.S. Supreme Court has overturned the conviction of Curtis Flowers, a Mississippi man who has been tried six times for the murders of four people in 1996.
In its 7–2 ruling released Friday, the court found that District Attorney Doug Evans intentionally removed black jurors during the jury selection process for Flowers’ sixth trial in 2010. Specifically, Evans violated a precedent from the 1986 case Batson v. Kentucky, determining it unconstitutional to strike jurors for their race. Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch dissented.
Flowers, who is black, was on death row for the murders of four people at the Tardy Furniture store in Winona, MS. Three of the victims were white, and one was black.
In his court opinion, Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote that the trial court made a “clear error” in concluding that the Evans’ removal of a black juror wasn’t motivated by an intent to discriminate. According to the ruling, Evans tried to strike all 36 black jurors from the pool over Flowers’ first four trials, and that Evans’ use of peremptory strikes (the right for attorneys to reject a potential juror without a reason) followed that same pattern. Even more telling, 61 of the 72 jurors in Flowers’ six trials were white, and none of the four juries that convicted him had more than one black juror, according to Flowers’ lawyer, Sheri Johnson of Cornell University’s Death Penalty Project.
“The State’s relentless, determined effort to rid the jury of black individuals strongly suggests that the State wanted to try Flowers before a jury with as few black jurors as possible, and ideally before an all-white jury,” Kavanaugh wrote.
According to American Public Media, which documented Flowers’ case in its second season of the podcast In The Dark, it’s unclear what kind of implications this ruling will have for Flowers. From AMP Reports:
In the weeks ahead, an order erasing Flowers’ four capital sentences will make its way to the Mississippi Department of Corrections. Once it does, Flowers will be moved off death row and out of Mississippi’s notorious Parchman prison.
He’ll likely be transferred to the county jail near Winona, where the crime took place in 1996. He’ll be held in pretrial detention, since the four murder indictments handed down years ago by a local grand jury still stand against him.
Flowers’ lawyers can ask for their client to be released on bail, but Evans can oppose it and the judge, likely to still be Joey Loper, can deny it. Bail is granted so rarely in capital cases in Mississippi that Flowers’ lawyers may not even request it; they haven’t always in the past.
The most important question, of course, is whether Evans will try Flowers a seventh time. The answer to that may take months to become clear and is almost entirely up to Evans himself. He told In the Dark reporters in January that a seventh trial is a possibility. But Evans has other options too: He can offer Flowers one of a range of plea deals or he can ask for the charges against Flowers to be dismissed entirely. If the charges are dropped, Flowers would be released.
So many options, but for a prosecutor who has tried Flowers six times and has gone to unconstitutional, racist lengths to convict him, it’s clear what will more than likely happen next.
If tried again, Flowers’ lawyers may ask the judge to remove Evans from the case, but speaking to APM in January, Evans denied that the prosecution would benefit from such a change. “No,” Evans said at the time. “They’ve had numerous different juries that all agree.”
Update, 3:20 pm E.T.: As a commenter pointed out, the 1986 case setting precedent on racist juror selection is Batson v. Kentucky, not Baston v. Kentucky.