Curtis Flowers is an African American man incarcerated alongside Willie Manning on Mississippi’s death row. The way the legal system has operated in Flowers’ case has been described as “nothing more than one human being tormenting another because he can.”
Flowers’ highly questionable conviction is for the 1997 murder of four people in a furniture store in Winona, Mississippi; he has always maintained his innocence. Law enforcement officers concealed evidence that pointed to another suspect. They used dubious jailhouse snitches to build a case against Flowers; these witnesses have since recanted. A possible murder weapon was found and sent to the prosecutor’s office for testing; it disappeared.
Incredibly, Flowers has suffered the ordeal of going through six trials for this crime, all brought by the same prosecutor, Doug Evans. The convictions from Flowers’ first three trials were all nullified on appeal because of prosecutor misconduct. The fourth and fifth trials produced no verdict: the jury could not agree. The sixth trial resulted in a conviction that was ultimately challenged in the US Supreme Court and overturned last month on the grounds that
‘the prosecutor showed a “relentless, determined” effort to rid the jury of black members and try Flowers “ideally before an all-white jury.”’
Studies confirm that such unfair jury manipulation is commonplace in the USA: black jurors are struck by prosecutors at a rate that is two, three or four times the rate for white jurors. Willie has a similar claim of improper prosecutor strikes for black jurors.
Diversity in juries is important not just for reasons of legitimacy. People are better able to interpret the behavior of others if they come from a similar background; thus black jurors are better equipped to decide whether black defendants are guilty. Personal experience is also likely to make African Americans more skeptical than white people about police, prosecutors and the criminal justice system in general: this would help them to recognize the flaws in a case such as Flowers’, or, indeed, Willie’s.
Mississippi can now decide whether to inflict a seventh trial on Flowers: we hope it does not. We also hope Mississippi Supreme Court judges will be less quick to dismiss other inmates’ claims that prosecutors improperly struck black jurors. In Willie’s case four of the nine judges — close to a majority — decided that:
“…when viewed as a whole, a clear pattern suggesting pretextual reasons by the prosecution in the use of peremptory strikes appears”.
If the court reviews Willie’s claim again, we trust the majority will agree.