The U.S. Supreme Court threw out the death sentence of a Mississippi man convicted at his sixth trial for the same murders after the prosecutor repeatedly excluded black people from the jury.
The justices, voting 7-2, said the prosecutor violated the constitutional rights of Curtis Flowers, a black man accused of killing four people in 1996. Prosecutors will now have to decide whether to try him for a seventh time.
Three of Flowers’s six trials ended in convictions that were thrown out on appeal, once because the prosecutor, District Attorney Doug Evans, excluded blacks from the jury. Two other prosecutions ended with mistrials.
The jury that convicted Flowers in the sixth trial included 11 white people and one black person. Evans struck five black prospective jurors.
“The state’s pattern of striking black prospective jurors persisted from Flowers’s first trial through Flowers’s sixth trial,” Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote in the court’s majority opinion. He said the case involved “extraordinary facts.”
Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch dissented. Thomas blasted the ruling, saying its only “redeeming quality” was that Mississippi can prosecute Flowers again.
“Any competent prosecutor would have exercised the same strikes as the state did in this trial,” Thomas wrote. “And although the court’s opinion might boost its self-esteem, it also needlessly prolongs the suffering of four victims’ families.”
The argument in the case in March drew attention when the normally reticent Thomas asked his first questions from the bench in three years. Thomas asked Flowers’s lawyer whether his trial attorney eliminated any prospective jurors and what the race of those people was.
The case is Flowers v. Mississippi, 17-9572.
(Adds excerpts from opinions starting in fifth paragraph.)