Doug Evans, Curtis Flowers, Prosecutor discussed on The Takeaway
Bias is sometimes used in jury selection race is not supposed to be considered when attorneys select a jury, but the plaintiffs in a case the court heard last week say the prosecutor repeatedly sought to get rid of black jurors in order to win a conviction against their black client that client is Curtis flowers. He's been on death row in Mississippi for decades convicted of a quadruple homicide that occurred in nineteen Ninety-six flowers has been tried get this six times and each time his conviction was either thrown out for prosecutorial misconduct, or there were hung juries. Now. The supreme court will have the final say this case is the subject of the podcast in the dark. Some are free. Mark is a producer on that podcast. And she's here now. Hi, hi, thanks for having me, gray tabby. Well, let's start briefly with the facts in the case for people who don't know about Curtis flowers. Tell us briefly who he is. And how he was convicted of this quadruple murder sheriff. So as you mentioned this case stems from this horrible crime in nineteen Ninety-six in the small town in Mississippi. Four people were murdered shot in the head in the furniture store on the main street of this town called Winona and no one saw the murders happened. There was no physical evidence at the scene, but pretty quickly investigators focused in on this former employee named Curtis flowers now criticized actually only worked at the store for about three days. Total earlier in the summer. He didn't have any criminal record. And there was no direct evidence tying him to the crime. And he always has maintained his innocence and said, he did not do these murders. But in one thousand nine hundred seven he was convicted of the murders and sent to death row, but that was just the start of things for Curtis flowers because as you mentioned since then he has been tried six times for these murders. And as you said his convictions have been overturned by the state supreme court because of prosecutorial misconduct. And they've said that the prosecutor in this case the same prosecutor who has prosecuted all six trials as a white man named Doug Evans. The state supreme court says that he prosecuted the trials incorrectly. He had misconduct. Two of the trials had hung juries where the juries couldn't agree on a verdict, and then have the six trial, which was in two thousand ten is the one that is currently being appealed to the US supreme court, and what is the basis for that appeal is it the jury selection, right? So this in the dark, our podcast spent a lot of time looking into every facet of this case, and we really delved into a lot of the evidence and found that a lot of it didn't really hold up to scrutiny. But the supreme court is just considering what happened in jury selection in Curtis flowers six six trial, and it is important to note here Curtis flowers this black Doug Evans's, white Curtis. Flowers has always had either all white or mostly white juries and the way they got that way in this area. That is a pretty diverse area. It's about forty five percent African American but the juries were so white because of what happened in jury selection. And it has to do with something called peremptory strikes. Which are it's something you can do in a trial. Both sides are given a certain number of these strikes that they can use to remove people from the jury that they don't want, and you have to give a reason you can just say you have to give a reason. Right. And you can give the range of reasons that are acceptable. Here is actually quite broad the reasons do not have to be like, deeply, intellectual. But there's one very stringent rule, which is that you cannot strike a juror because of their race. So you you can't strike lectures, but you can't strike black jurors because they're black and how do you determine that? Well, that's the this is the crux of the whole issue. Because what it requires is kind of looking into the mind of the prosecutor because how this works in practice is maybe the prosecutor strikes for black jurors in a row and the defensive Jackson. They say judge he's striking these black jurors because they're black. He's committing. What's called a Batson violation? That's the technical legal word for for what what? That is because that's based on. Case combats rate a very famous case called Batson v Kentucky from the eighties. And so the defensive Jackson they say, you know, he's striking these jurors because they're black. And the judge turns to the prosecutor and says give me your reasons like why did you strike these jurors, and the prosecutor can give whatever reasons he wants he could say, well that guy was a schoolteacher. And I don't like teachers on my jury or that that woman was late to you know, she was late to court this morning indicated to me she wouldn't pick a juror. And so how do you know are those reasons real or what are called pretexts? You know, are they are they real or the excuses that the prosecutor is just offering so that he can strike black jurors. And so that's what this court is trying to figure out whether Doug Evans in this particular case had a real reason to strike these black jurors, or if he just did it to have an all white jury exactly because the state's position Doug Evans position that I had good. Reasons for striking this jurors, and he he laid them out at the trial court, and he laid them out and briefs to the supreme court, but criticized hours defensive saying, wait, just a second. These reasons are actually pretexts you can tell because if you look at number one what happened in the six trial. Doug Evans, asked potential black jurors far more questions than he asked potential Wijers. And the defense says he was doing that because he was trying to can affair it out information that he could then use to justify striking them later. It's called disparate questioning the idea of this is that this court has accepted that this is something that can be a sign of racial motivation. And the defense is also saying don't just look at this case look at what happened in the five prior trials. The numbers alone are striking in the first four trials, Mr Evans, exercise, thirty six peremptory challenges all of them against African American jurors in the six trial. He exercised five out of six of his challenges against African American jars and Evans has actually been caught committing a Batson violation twice. So two times in two of Kurdish flowers previous trials. Judges have said wait hold up. You are striking that black juror because they're black and Curtis flowers. Third conviction was actually overturned because of the bats in violation. And what did the judge say in that case was the reason how could you tell it was because the jurors were black. I believe in. I'm trying to remember exactly because there were a lot of claims made I believe in the second in the second trial. It was the trial court judge that the declared a bats in violation. And I believe the cause of that was that Doug Evans had said that a juror was sleeping, and the judge said, no that that guy was not sleeping and Doug Evans, also said that he thought that he had some he had received some inside information that the man might be in a gang or like -ffiliated with gang activity is. But when the defense asked him to submit some kind of proof of this. He he did not. And so the judge in that trial said no these are just pretexts, but it's very hard as you can see like its neighbour requires a lot of it's very Batson violations are rare not not the fact that they're committed, but to actually for a judge to actually say prosecutor you've committed a vial of a Batson violation is very unusual because it's so hard to prove you looked into his record when it comes to. His jury selection in other cases other trials what did you? Discover finding the answer to that question was was not easy. It took a lot of work. It took a lot of time months and months and months, and at the end of that very long process we were able to say that in all of the trials that we could analyze in Doug Evans district since he became DA Evans in his office for striking black jurors at almost four and a half times the rate that they were striking white perspective. Jurors and what was his explanation for that? You know, we asked him about our findings. You know, he said that he disagreed with our numbers, and we asked him to sit down with us and go of our numbers and show us what he disagreed with. And he has so far declined to do that, you know, an explanation that that the state has given for striking black jurors in the credits flowers case and for asking disparate questions of black jurors in the credits flowers case is that, you know, this is a very small town. It's a segregated town. So black perspective jurors are more likely to have connections to the flowers family than white perspective juror. So it makes sense that you would strike more because they're just serve more entangled with socially with that family. So that is that's the line of the state on what's going on. Okay. So why is Curtis flowers still in jail? If all these convictions keep getting overturn like why is he still sitting in there and not waiting outlet, you know, not being released pending some kind of retrial or appeal. Because that's just it's you know, it's it's how it works. I mean, he, you know, if when his when his convictions are overturned, he gets back his presumption of innocence. And he's technically not convicted. But the prosecutor doesn't have to let him go free the process long, the prosecutor can decide to retry him, which is what's happened in criticism case over and over again, you know, if the supreme court rules in favor of Curtis. He'll be in the same position. It'll it'll be back with the district attorney who again, it's it's not like the supreme court if they rule in favor of Curtis that the doors of the prison open and Curtis walks free. That's not the situation here. It'll be back in the hands of Doug Evans to decide. What do I wanna do? Do. I want to try this case again, I seven time. He could try seventh time he could. So he must be really convinced that Curtis flowers is guilty. That's what he's told us. Yeah. I think he he is he says that he has no questions about criticism guilt. He says he thinks his case is strong. He has not told us for sure. Whether he would try courtesy seventh time, but I don't I don't see any indication that he wouldn't. And I know that your journalist, and this is journalistic enterprise, but you seem to take a position in the podcast that he perhaps is innocent or it was wrongly convicted. Well, you know by the time you hear the pod. Cast that represents more than a years worth of reporting by the time it goes out in a produced way. And so we went into the story having no idea whether he was guilty or innocent. You know, the story came from a tip a woman a woman wrote to us and said I live in Mississippi. There's a man here who's been convicted six times of the same crime and the evidence against him. If he at best and to us, the most interesting part of that tip was not the part about the evidence. Being if best it was the six trials because that was the part where we are like what is that possible? It was the part of the tip that sort of took it beyond just a wrongful conviction story. And so we went into it with the striving question not of is this man innocent or guilty. But more along the lines of what is going on here. How could this person be tried six times for the same crime? And through our reporting as we started we we really looked at all of the evidence that the state presented at trial, and we really reported out. Every one of those strands, and by the time, we were putting out the podcast, and we had completed our reporting that evidence looked extremely weak to us. So I'm not gonna I'm not gonna sit here and tell you like, I know Curtis flowers is innocent. We would never say that we weren't there. But what I can say is we spent a lot of time reporting on this case, and our findings are that the evidence just doesn't hold up. And as you say if the supreme court does overturn the conviction and side with Curtis flowers and his team, he won't go free automatically. Doug, Evans will decide whether or not to to try him again for a seventh time. Have you asked him what he's going to do that? We have we have. We've we've tried to ask him that multiple times. He he has generally commented that he's not gonna comment on the case fall. It's an process will continue to ask that question. I will say there was one very interesting thread of the oral arguments last week a that across the board sin pretty much across the board. The justices conservative and liberal seemed deeply deeply troubled by this case and one of the conservative justices Samuel Alito. Who's a former prosecutor seemed frankly appalled by the facts that Doug Evans was allowed to continue trying this case history of the case prior to this trial is very troubling the lawyer arguing the case for the state was not Doug Evanston, self. It was a Representative of the attorney general's office multiple times Samuel Alito pressed him on this question of Mississippi law could the attorney general have said, you know, enough already. We're going to send one of Alan people to try this case, preferably in a different county where so many people don't know so many other people could he have done that Justice of my or brought this up to she's another former prosecutor. And so I think this this sort of pressing of the supreme court on the attorney general's office about like is there something you guys can do was an interesting thread. And it'll be interesting to see how that plays out. I mean, the short answer to that is that the attorney general cannot step in Doug Evans, request them to step in as far as I can tell the technical answer on that..