June 10, 2010
The fate of Curtis Flowers, a man on trial for the sixth time, is now in the hands of a jury consisting of 11 whites and one African American in Montgomery County where the racial make up is 54 percent white and 44 percent African American.
The Mississippi State Supreme Court overturned the first two trials, in which Flowers was found guilty, for procedural misconduct. The Supreme Court also overturned the third trial, citing Montgomery County District Attorney Doug Evans for intentionally excluding black jurors from jury selection. The third and fourth trials both ended in hung juries. If found guilty, Flowers could face the death penalty.
Attorney Rob McDuff said the majority-white jury could be the outcome of the trial's tense racial history. McDuff represented James Bibbs, who Montgomery County Circuit Judge Joseph Loper and District Attorney Doug Evans charged with perjury during the fifth trial in 2008. Bibbs, an African American, was the only juror in favor of acquitting Flowers.
"Some other jurors claimed (Bibbs) had acted improperly and Loper jumped to conclusions and accused Mr. Bibbs in open court of having perjured himself when he answered questions during the jury selection process," McDuff said.
McDufff helped get Loper and Evans recused from the case.
"It was a completely bogus charge. I believe Bibbs was indicted to send a message to future jurors who vote for acquittal," he said, adding: "I can't help but believe that it had an impact. It's really unfortunate that there is only one African American on that jury in a crime where the town is so divided along racial lines."
Dr. Alan Bean, executive director of Friends of Justice, a nonprofit organization that conducts awareness campaigns promoting due process of law, has put together a group of observers to watch the trial. Bean said he watched as the jury pool of African Americans shrank during the three-day selection process.
"White people by-and-large were trying to do everything they could do get on, and black people were trying to everything they could to get off," Bean said. "A lot of people just don't want to go through what Bibbs went through."
During the jury selection process, Bean said that when Evans asked if there was anyone who couldn't sit in judgment of another human being, 11 people raised their hands--nine African Americans and two whites.
Earlier this month, The Equal Justice Initiative, an Alabama-based nonprofit organization, released a report, "Illegal Racial Discrimination in Jury Selection: A Continuing Legacy." The report finds that jury discrimination have occurred in eight Southern states-- Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee despite the United States Supreme Court's 1986 decision in Batson v. Kentucky, limiting racially discriminating use of peremptory strikes in jury selection by requiring lawyers to provide nonracial reasons for those strikes.
Many courts and judges "refusal to apply the decision retroactively has meant that scores of death row prisoners have been executed after convictions and death sentences by all-white juries, which were organized by excluding people of color on the basis of race," the report states.
Witness testimonies for the Flowers case began today. The trial will continue on Saturday and through next week.