49-year-old Curtis Flowers is a death-row inmate who has spent 22 years in jail and endured six re-trials for the 1996 murder of four people at a Mississippi furniture store. Now, the Supreme Court has decided to throw out Flowers’ conviction by a 7-2 vote.
Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote the opinion for the court, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and four liberal justices, who believe the prosecution’s dismissal of 41 out of the 42 prospective black jurors is evidence of racial discrimination and a violation of Flowers’ rights. The questioning of the black and white prospective jurors in the case were also dramatically different, according to the Justices, further proving racial injustice.
In Flowers’ last trial, the jury was made up of 11 white jurors and one African American juror. According to the Associated Press, District Attorney Doug Evans axed five black prospective jurors. Previously, three convictions were tossed out, including one where the prosecutor improperly excluded African Americans from the jury and two other trials ended with jurors not reaching unanimous verdicts.
“The numbers speak loudly,” Kavanaugh said in his opinion, read out loud in the courtroom, noting that Evans had removed 41 of the 42 prospective black jurors over the six trials. “We cannot ignore that history.” The Supreme Court’s decision in Batson v. Kentucky in 1986 set up a system that allowed trial judges to evaluate claims of discrimination and the race-neutral explanations by prosecutors.
While the court may favor Flowers, its ruling does not impede Mississippi from putting him on trial for the seventh time. Fellow conservative Justice Clarence Thomas dissented in the case and in his dissenting statement, Thomas described the court’s ruling as “manifestly incorrect.” He noted that Flowers can still be convicted again and that the court’s majority “does not dispute that the evidence was sufficient to convict Flowers or that he was tried by an impartial jury.”
Prosecutors claim Flowers was upset with the Tardy Furniture store owner for firing him and withholding his paycheck to cover costs of merchandise he damaged. He was convicted of killing store owner Bertha Tardy, bookkeeper Carmen Rigby, delivery worker Robert Golden and part-time employee Derrick Stewart. All except Golden were white.
Benny Rigby, Carmen Rigby’s husband, was disappointed with the ruling and said he has no doubt that Flowers killed his wife and the other victims. “There is no justice,” Rigby said. “If he was white, he would have been executed by now.”
Flowers’ oldest brother, Archie Flowers Jr. told Mississippi Clarion Ledger his first reaction when he heard the news was, “Thank God.”
“But I think they should have let him go period,” Archie said. “There is no doubt in our minds, he is innocent, and God proved that today.”