I learned about the case of Curtis Flowers, a black man who has been tried six times for the same crime, through the excellent reporting of the investigative podcast In the Dark. For the show’s second season, American Public Media host Madeleine Baran and her team of reporters went to Winona, Mississippi, to find out why Flowers was accused of murdering four people in a small-town furniture store in 1996, and why he has spent twenty-one years in prison awaiting trial after trial. Four guilty verdicts have been thrown out due to prosecutorial misconduct (the other trials ended with deadlocked juries). And each time, Flowers was tried by the same district attorney, a man named Doug Evans.
Baran has a longstanding professional interest in issues of power and accountability—she exposed a cover-up of clergy sexual abuse in Minneapolis–St. Paul while working at Minnesota Public Radio. And in the story of Curtis Flowers, her team found alarming lapses everywhere they looked. Each aspect of the prosecution’s case—police record-keeping, witness statements, handling of evidence—was called into question. One crucial episode lays out damning evidence that Evans deliberately eliminated black jurors from Flowers’s trials.
In 2007, the Mississippi Supreme Court found that Doug Evans had done just that in Flowers’s third trial, in violation of the 1986 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Batson v. Kentucky. The conviction was overturned, but Evans was not penalized. Three trials later—after Flowers was sentenced to death in 2010, and following In the Dark’s dogged investigation—an appeal alleging Evans had committed another Batson violation brought Flowers v. Mississippi to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In June, the court overturned Flowers’s conviction with a 7–2 ruling. Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote, “The State’s relentless, determined effort to rid the jury of black individuals strongly suggests that the State wanted to try Flowers before a jury with as few black jurors as possible, and ideally before an all-white jury.”
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