The Supreme Court on Friday threw the latest conviction of a Mississippi man who has been tried an extraordinary six times for a quadruple murder in 1996 and found it a zealous accusation once
The decision was 7 to 2, with Minister of Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, who wrote the majority. He said it did not break new legal grounds, but reinforced the court's rulings on when a prosecutor's bias eliminated a potential jury member.
Justice Clarence Thomas and Neil M. Gorsuch rejected.
Six times, District Attorney Doug Evans, who is white, has tried to judge Curtis Flowers, which is black, in a prosecution that may be without parallel. Flowers were accused of performing four people within the Tardy Furniture Store in Winona, Miss. In 1996.
Two trials, the only ones with more than one African American on the panel, resulted in suspended juries. Three convictions were overthrown by the Mississippi Supreme Court for prosecution and inappropriate maneuvering of Evans to keep blacks from the jury.
But the state said Evans had offered race-neutral grounds in the last attempt in 2010, when the prosecutor hit five of six black potential jury members. He was convicted of murdering Bertha Tardy, 59, and keeping the staff Carmen Rigby, 45, Robert Golden, 42 and 16-year-old Derrick "Bo Bo" Stewart and sentenced to death.
The Supreme Court did not consider the evidence against flowers, but instead investigates Evans' charges.
In his disagreement, Thomas said that the court did not dispute Flowers was judged by an impartial jury.
"Today's decision distorts the record of this case, derives our standard of scrutiny and leaves four murders of conviction because the state beat a jury member who would have been hit by a competent lawyer," he wrote. He added: "If the court's opinion today has a redeeming quality, it's like: The state is completely free to judge Curtis Flowers again."
When choosing a jury, some potential members are eliminated by the judge and lawyers for permission – that they have a conflict of interest, for example, or because in a capital case they say they could not impose the death penalty.
Prosecutors and defense lawyers also receive what is known as preliminary challenges. They can beat potential jury members that they simply do not want on the jury, and generally these elections cannot be guessed.
But in one case in 1986 Batson vs. Kentucky said the Supreme Court Challenges could not be used to hit a potential juror because of his or her race. (Gender was later added as a forbidden purpose.)
In a recent decision, the court stated that the judges should consider "total conditions" when deciding whether a prosecutor used the challenges as a pretext to exclude jurors because of their race.
Floral lawyers said it means looking at Evan's work in previous trials, not just the latest.
"The first four times Evans prosecuted the flowers, he beat every blackboard list as he could, 36 in all," They told the Supreme Court in a map.
In general, lawyers can come up with a racially neutral reason to beat a jury member. But Evan's actions in one of these trials, as stated by the Mississippi High Court, presented "such a prima facie case of racial discrimination as we have ever seen in a Batson challenge."
But to determine if a potential lawyer was beaten is a fact-specific study. And the Mississippi High Court in the 2010 case postponed a judge to find that Evans had non-discriminatory reasons to beat the black jurors – because they had ties to flowers or had been sued by Tardy Furniture, for example.