J. Scott Applewhite / AP
The US Supreme Court on Wednesday strongly declared its intention to rule on a Mississippi death row convict who had been prosecuted six times for the same crime by a prosecutor with a history of racial bias when selecting one. jury.
The arguments, more passionate and more factual than usual, also came to an end when Judge Clarence Thomas asked a question – the first time in three years.
Although his colleagues were primarily interested in the exclusion of African American jurors by the prosecutor, Thomas asked if the defense had hit hard. White the jurors. Yes, three in the sixth trial, said defense lawyer Sheri Johnson. But as for the black jurors, there was no one left to go on strike.
Provided by Mississippi Department of Corrections via AP
For decades, the Supreme Court has addressed the issue of racial discrimination in the selection of jurors, establishing its most stringent rules in 1986. However, monitor the application of these rules by the courts lower ones is revealed problematic.
Wednesday's case concerned the conduct of Doug Evans, a prosecutor in Winona, Missouri, and his continued conviction of Curtis Flowers, a black man who previously , had no criminal record. A few months after a quadruple murder in Winona, Flowers was brought to justice, tried, sentenced to death. He has been sentenced to death for 22 years.
During this period, the State Supreme Court annulled three times its conviction for murder for misconduct by the prosecutor.
The misconduct was not a technical detail. This was to deceive the jury on non-existent evidence to potential jurors based on their race.
In the fourth and fifth trials, Evans failed to strike; at least two black jurors were seated; and the jurors in the stalemate. But in the sixth trial, with a black juror, the jury was found guilty and the Mississippi Supreme Court upheld the conviction, finding that this time there had been no racial discrimination in that case. the selection of a jury.
In Wednesday's debate, most members of the US Supreme Court did not seem inclined to support this conclusion.
Chief Justice John Roberts has asked defense counsel, Sheri Johnson, to identify the rule that the court should adopt for "less extreme than that" cases?
The current rule that requires reviewing the prosecutor's history is sufficient, she said, but in this case, the Mississippi Supreme Court did not do so.
Mississippi Deputy Attorney General Jason Davis admitted that the story of the case was "disturbing", but he insisted that, other than that, the selection of the jury for the sixth trial was carried out correctly. , Winona being a small town of less than 5,000 inhabitants. where everyone knows everyone.
Judge Samuel Alito interrupted to ask, the Attorney General of Mississippi could not say: "Enough already, we will send one of our compatriots to judge this case, preferably in another county"?
Yes, replied Davis' lawyer, but the local attorney should ask for it, and Evans did not do it.
Judge Brett Kavanaugh intervened: "You said, if we take away the history of the case," but "we can not do that". Here, 41 of the 42 potential African-American jurors were hit, he said.
Davis insisted that each potential juror struck in the sixth trial was struck off for good reason. Judge Elena Kagan was surprised to find that one of the struck jurors appeared to be the "perfect jury of the prosecution" because she was strongly in favor of the death penalty and that her brother was a guardian of jail.
Kavanaugh pointed out that one of the reasons the court has adopted increasingly stringent rules aimed at eliminating racial bias in jury selection is the need to "trust the community to have the system of criminal justice be fair ".
And, he asked, "in this context of decades of wholly black juries convicting black defendants … can you say with confidence, while you are sitting here today … that you trust how it all happened in the present case? "
Alito asked a similar question, asking if, in light of the history of this case, a court could distinguish what happened in the first five trials of how the jury was selected during the first five trials. of the sixth trial.
Davis replied, "The recoil is 20/20."