A Mississippi inmate whose extraordinary murder case reached the Supreme Court was released on bail Monday, leaving custody for the first time in over 20 years.
Curtis Flowers, the inmate, stood trial in Mississippi state court six times for the same quadruple homicide by the same prosecutor, Doug Evans. Two of those cases ended in a mistrial due to deadlocked juries. Flowers was found guilty in the other four, but appeals courts lifted the convictions because of prosecutorial misconduct.
“In the next trial, should one occur, the state of Mississippi is faced with the prospect of having to present a far weaker case to the jury than it’s had in the past,” Circuit Judge Joey Loper said after granting bail to Flowers. “The court is of the opinion that, in the least, reasonable doubt as to Mr. Flowers’ guilt can be entertained.”
“In the Dark,” an American Public Media (APM) podcast, produced an award-winning series on the Flowers case. The program uncovered evidence casting doubt on Flowers’s guilt.
There are two defense motions pending in the case, according to APM Reports. One seeks the dismissal of charges against Flowers. The other asks for Evans’s removal from the case.
— In the Dark (@InTheDarkAPM) December 16, 2019
Evans’s conduct was at issue when the Supreme Court heard the Flowers case in March. Flowers alleged that Evans rigged the jury along racial lines through so-called “peremptory strikes.” That tool allows lawyers to remove individuals from the jury pool for any reason. In a 1986 decision called Batson v. Kentucky, the Supreme Court said peremptory strikes could not be used on account of race. The decision followed the long, unfortunate history of prosecutors seating all-white juries in cases with black defendants.
Justice Brett Kavanaugh delivered the high court’s opinion in Flowers’s case for a seven-justice majority. The court tossed out Flowers’s conviction, saying Evans’s juror selection practices violated the Constitution.
“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. “The trial judge was aware of the history. But the judge did not sufficiently account for the history when considering Flowers’ Batson claim.”
That the high court even heard the Flowers case was somewhat unusual. The court generally decides cases presenting urgent national issues or legal questions over which multiple courts disagree. What’s more, Kavanaugh’s opinion for the majority emphasized that the decision did not break any new legal ground.
Flowers’ bail was set at $250,000.
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