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Supreme Court tosses murder conviction of Mississippi death row inmate over racial makeup of jury

Supreme Court overturns conviction of Curtis Flowers

The U.S. Supreme Court has overturned the conviction of a black Mississippi death row inmate who has been tried six times in the 1996 killings of four people at a Mississippi furniture store. Lawyers for 49-year-old Curtis Flowers have argued that the local prosecutor consistently kept black jurors off the jury in violation of the Constitution. 

Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote the opinion. The Supreme Court tried to end discrimination in the composition of juries in 1986, but it has been harder to root out in practice.

The jury that convicted Flowers most recently was made up of 11 white jurors and one African-American. District Attorney Doug Evans struck five other African-Americans from the jury pool in the process.

Mississippi's top court had twice upheld Flowers' conviction and sentence, even after the Supreme Court ordered it to re-examine the case for possible racial discrimination in 2016.

The Supreme Court's decision in Batson v. Kentucky in 1986 set up a system by which trial judges could evaluate claims of discrimination and the race-neutral explanations by prosecutors.

It was during a hearing on Flowers' case that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas spoke up for the first time since 2016

Flowers has been in jail for 22 years, since his arrest after four people were found shot to death in a furniture store in Winona, Mississippi, in July 1996.

Prosecutors said Flowers was a disgruntled former employee who sought revenge against the store's owner because she fired him and withheld most of his pay to cover the cost of merchandise he damaged. Nearly $300 was found missing after the killings.

Defense lawyers, though, said witness statements and physical evidence against Flowers are too weak to convict him. A jailhouse informant who claimed Flowers had confessed to him recanted in recorded telephone conversations with American Public Media's "In the Dark" podcast. A separate appeal is pending in state court questioning Flowers' actual guilt, citing in part evidence that reporters for "In the Dark" detailed.

"The quadruple homicide in this case was a terrible crime, but Curtis Flowers did not commit it," his defense team said in a statement Friday. 

"That Mr. Flowers has already endured six trials and more than two decades on death row is a travesty. A seventh trial would be unprecedented, and completely unwarranted given both the flimsiness of the evidence against him and the long trail of misconduct that has kept him wrongfully incarcerated all these years. We hope that the State of Mississippi will finally disavow [District Attorney] Doug Evans' misconduct, decline to pursue yet another trial, and set Mr. Flowers free."

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