Monday, December 16, 2019
Curits Flowers will leave Mississippi's Parchman prison and return home for the first time in more than two decades after Montgomery County Circuit Judge Joseph Loper granted him a $250,000 bail on Monday morning. Since 1997, prosecutors have tried the 49-year-old six times for the same crime, garnering murder convictions and death-row sentences four times. Two other efforts ended in mistrials.
"After nearly 23 years in prison, Curtis Flowers will be released on bail as we continue to pursue justice in this long and costly case," Flowers attorney Rob McDuff of the Mississippi Center for Justice said in a press release moments after the judge's decision.
Flowers' release comes as he waits to learn whether or not he will have to stand trial a seventh time.
"Given the evidence of his innocence that continues to surface as time goes by, as well as his excellent prison conduct and the fact that he has no criminal record, bail was required by the law under the unusual circumstances of this case," McDuff said on Monday.
'Determined Effort to Rid the Jury of Black Individuals'
Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Flowers' most recent conviction in the 1996 slayings of four people at a furniture store in Winona, Miss. The court found that prosecutor Doug Evans violated the Constitution by repeatedly blocking black jurors. Flowers has been locked up in Mississippi's Parchman prison for the past 22 years.
The nine-member court overturned the conviction in a 7-2 ruling in June, with Justice Brett Kavanaugh, a Donald Trump appointee, writing the majority opinion.
"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's ruling reads.
When retired Tardy Furniture employee Sam Jones arrived at work one July morning in 1996, he found the bodies of employees Robert Golden, Carmen Rigby and Derrick Stewart. He also found the body of Bertha Tardy, the owner of the store who had called him earlier that morning and asked him to come in to help train two new employees. Three victims were white, and one was black. All had been shot.
Police suspected Flowers because Tardy had fired him less than two weeks prior, and eyewitnesses claimed they saw him near the scene of a car burglary earlier that morning, where someone had stolen a .38-caliber pistol. Though investigators never found the weapon, they declared that the bullets at the scene were a match for a .38-caliber pistol.
The June ruling relies on precedent set in the 1986 Batson v. Kentucky ruling, which found that prosecutors cannot use peremptory strikes against jurors on the basis of race. In Flowers' first four trials, prosecutors for the State tried to block all 36 black prospective jurors from the case.
The fifth trial consisted of nine white jurors and three black jurors, but there is no record of the racial makeup of prospective jurors in that case. The jury could not come to a decision. In Flowers' sixth and most recent trial in June 2010, prosecutors for the State struck five of six black prospective jurors, resulting in a jury of 11 white jurors and one black juror.
In Flowers' sixth trial, the state asked 145 questions of all five prospective black jurors, but just 12 questions of the 11 white prospective jurors. Disparate questioning motivated by race, Kavanaugh wrote, violates the U.S. Constitution.
"In sum, the State's pattern of striking black prospective jurors persisted from Flowers' first trial through Flowers' sixth trial," Kavanaugh wrote. "At the sixth trial, moreover, the State engaged in dramatically disparate questioning of black and white prospective jurors."
Justice Clarence Thomas, who is African American, disagreed with the Court's majority decision in a dissent, which Justice Neil Gorsuch, a Trump appointee, joined.
Flowers is still waiting to find out whether or not he will face a seventh trial.
"We are very pleased that he will finally have some measure of freedom and be able to spend time with his wonderful family," McDuff said in Monday's morning press release. "At the beginning of the new year, we will move forward with our efforts to obtain a dismissal of the charges. This has been a long and costly process, and there is no need to continue wasting taxpayer money on this misguided prosecution that has been plagued by misconduct and racial discrimination. "
Rights Groups Sue Evans for 'Rigging the Jury System'
Last month, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, or LDF, joined the Roderick & Solange MacArthur Justice Center, filing a federal class action lawsuit against Evans, partly on behalf of prospective black jurors in his district. The lawsuit aims to prevent Evans from further engaging in discrimination against potential African American jurors.
"It is hard to find a more egregious pattern of a prosecutor's office treating Black jurors like second-class citizens and rigging the jury system," Chris Kemmitt, Senior Counsel at LDF, said in a Nov. 18 press statement announcing the lawsuit.
"For 27 years, Doug Evans and his office have ignored the Supreme Court's ban on jury discrimination, and Evans just won re-election without drawing an opponent. At this point, only a federal court can stop such a flagrant abuse of power."