High court to hear Mississippi case on juror discrimination
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) – The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Friday to hear an appeal questioning whether a Mississippi prosecutor discriminated against black jurors in a murder case that’s featured six trials.
Justices are likely to hear arguments this winter in the appeal by African-American death row inmate Curtis Flowers with claims that the local district attorney illegally kept black people off juries.
The high court had already sent the case back to the Mississippi Supreme Court in 2016, instructing the state court to review the case for evidence of impermissible discrimination. The court ruled in a 1986 Kentucky case that a prosecutor can’t use peremptory strikes – dismissing jurors without stating a reason – to exclude jurors based on race. The state court upheld the conviction on a 5-4 vote.
Flowers is accused of shooting and killing the owner and three employees of a Winona furniture store in July 1996. Prosecutors have said Flowers was a disgruntled former employee who sought revenge against 59-year-old store owner Bertha Tardy because she fired him and withheld most of his pay to cover the cost of merchandise he damaged. Nearly $300 was found missing from Tardy Furniture. The three slain employees were 45-year-old Carmen Rigby, 42-year-old Robert Golden and 16-year-old Derrick “BoBo” Stewart.
Defense lawyers, though, have argued that the witness statements and physical evidence against Flowers are too weak to convict him. The case has attracted national scrutiny, and a jailhouse informant who claimed Flowers had confessed to him recanted months ago in recorded telephone conversations with American Public Media’s In the Dark podcast.
The current Supreme Court appeal, though, centers on black jurors. In the first three trials, Flowers was found guilty, but convictions were overturned citing prosecutorial misconduct. The fourth and fifth trials ended in hung juries.
In the sixth trial in 2010, Flowers was convicted and sentenced to death by a jury with only one African-American. Montgomery County District Attorney Doug Evans struck some jurors, while others were removed for cause after saying they were related or had other ties to Flowers and his family.
American Public Media, in an analysis of Evans’ record, found that in 225 trials from 1992 through 2017, Evans’ office struck 50 percent of eligible black jurors and 11 percent of eligible white jurors.
Evans, in a June interview with The Greenwood Commonwealth, said he didn’t know about the analysis and didn’t care to learn, saying the journalists would “like a guilty man to be turned free, apparently.”
“I don’t know where that figure comes from,” Evans told the newspaper. “I haven’t listened to (the podcast), and I don’t intend to because I know what this is about.”
Margaret Ann Morgan, spokeswoman for Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, declined to comment, citing the ongoing case.