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Supreme Court dismisses killer's conviction over jury bias

By
Clyde Hughes
Curtis Flowers had been convicted four times of capital murder in the deaths of four people in 1996. File Photo courtesy Mississippi Department of Corrections
Curtis Flowers had been convicted four times of capital murder in the deaths of four people in 1996. File Photo courtesy Mississippi Department of Corrections

June 21 (UPI) -- The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the conviction and death sentence of a Mississippi killer Friday because it determined the prosecutor had a history of racial bias in selecting juries.

Curtis Flowers was tried six times by the same prosecutor for killing four people at a furniture store 23 years ago. At each trial, he faced all-white juries. His attorney argued prosecutor Doug Evans unlawfully removed potential black jurors from the proceedings each time.

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The Supreme Court agreed in a 7-2 vote, saying Evans violated a law that says prosecutors can't exclude jurors without needing give a reason -- a move known as a peremptory challenge.

"The numbers speak loudly," Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote for the majority. "Over the course of the first four trials, there were 36 black prospective jurors against whom the state could have exercised a peremptory strike. The state tried to strike all 36.

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"Equal justice under law requires a criminal trial free of racial discrimination in the jury selection process."

The justices weighed Evans' history of striking African-American jurors. Over the course of all six trials, they observed, Evans removed 41 of 42 potential black jurors.

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Flowers was found guilty in four of the six trials -- the first three of which were overturned by Mississippi appellate courts due to prosecutorial misconduct. The next two ended with hung juries and he was convicted again in his sixth. The Mississippi Supreme Court upheld the last conviction before it was brought before the high court.

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Justice Clarence Thomas, the court's only black justice, joined Neil Gorsuch in dissent.

"Flowers presented no evidence whatsoever of purposeful race discrimination," Thomas wrote. "If the court's opinion today has a redeeming quality, it is this: The state is perfectly free to convict Curtis Flowers again. Otherwise, the opinion distorts our legal standards, ignores the record, and reflects utter disrespect for the careful analysis of the Mississippi courts."

During arguments in March on Flowers' case, Thomas spoke from the high court bench for the first time in three years.

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Flowers, 49, was previously found guilty of killing four employees, execution-style, at the Winona, Miss., furniture store in 1996. Each was shot in the head, and one was shot twice. They were found by an employee who'd arrived for work, UPI reported at the time.

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Mississippi prosecutors have not yet said whether they plan to try Flowers a seventh time.

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