Mississippi death row inmate brings racial bias claim to the Supreme Court

48-year-old Curtis Flowers' claim comes after misconduct and allegations of sexism during the jury selection process in his criminal case.
8:46 | 03/20/19

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Transcript for Mississippi death row inmate brings racial bias claim to the Supreme Court
Well now we back here in Washington turned to the Supreme Court and welcome in one of our guests with us today some are remark of American public media she is a senior producer with a podcast in the dark. Which is tracking one of did significant cases that was before the Supreme Court today as Tamara. Focusing them racial bias in the criminal justice system an incredible case Justin and I were talking about it this morning. This is the case of Curtis flowers who is a forty year old Mississippi man on death row been there for 22 years. And he alleges that Indy six count them six times he's been tried. For the same quadruple murder in 1996. He faced which he calls racially biased juries because of in his words. The the prosecutor Doug Evans. I was involved in some discriminatory behavior in picking those jurors you were in in a courtroom today at the Supreme Court how were the justices responding to his argument of racial bias. Well you know it's it can be hard to tell what the justices are thinking they ask you want to predict too much based on their questions that. I think it's safe to say that they seemed pretty troubled by the history of this prosecutor. So as you mentioned this is a case that is had not just one talent had six. And over the course of those six child which is a person. I as far as we can tell it's it is Seth has contracted to say that yes this is not comment has this been the trials for the same crime. Same prosecutors same dependent. So over the course of these trials the prosecutor Doug Evans has been cot. Coming all kinds of prosecutorial misconduct including checking by actors because they're black which is unconstitutional is actually been caught poured into previous trials. And I think you could tell from the questions today at the court that many if the justices were deeply troubled by this. Including for potentially justice Clarence Thomas who we should note this as an aside asked his first question. In the courtroom in three years someone who is famous for being silent treatments right marking an indication of the significant to the case. I do want to bring in our Supreme Court analyst Kate shop proven more in this conversation because as Tamara. Which is mentioning Kate. Op Ed issue here is the jury selection process in criminal trials. And the use of these techniques called peremptory challenges which are allow both lawyers on either side in the case to strike jurors for any reason. Help us understand a little bit more about that process and how it may be prone to abuse it. Sure I'm so great either side of the case has the opportunity to remove jurors without explaining why writes about called a peremptory challenge. I'm an only if the other side raises an objection to the challenged the up to put forth your reasons. A so the other side says hey you've now struck. You know three prospective jurors all our black why did you strike them then decide that need to strikes to come forward with an explanation. And it needs to be erased neutral explanation the but the problem is sometimes race neutral explanations are offered. But just to conceal what are actually racial motivations. On and so that's what we've seen in several of these prior cases. Court's finding that this prosecutor Don Athens did in striking black jurors he of course didn't come forward and yes I struck these prospective jurors because of race he offered other explanations welled in new one of the witnesses a work. The victims or on. Or had a connection to the defendant or you know met. Provided some kind of explanation. But a lot of those explanations applied equally to the white jurors who weren't struck but it's a tricky process because. You still are allowed to do this thing out called peremptory challenges and some people think that. There was should shouldn't be allowed an all you shouldn't be able to remove someone. Who's a prospective juror without giving some explanation up front and it's prone to abuse into manufactured explanations left NC. Backgrounds. Yet and it makes a very complicated. Fact pattern in this case some merit because in the first trial it was an all white jury second trial. Almost all white jury each of those cases it was tossed out because the Mississippi Supreme Court said whether some misconduct there may not fair. Third trial same thing fourth and fifth trial. Armchairs and more diverse juries and they were great box they didn't convict him and then they got among the six trial is also eleven to one lemon what I want right here to black jurist. Said today's no one of the things that's justices grappled with was the context. Of Doug Evans the prosecutor's behavior. I think we have the numbers American public media a year for podcast in the dark which is a fabulous listen everybody should download it. I did an analysis in Mississippi you spent a lot of time they're looking at 418. Cases or more. Of the this prosecutor in his in his practices of using peremptory strikes you found. Foreign half to five times higher strikes against black jurors and my teachers met Traci can you would think. This may be the kind of thing that was tracked but it's it's an important constitutional issues so you would think you might be able to. Go to computer and look up. How many black people does my local prosecutor strike off of Jerry's but it's very difficult to do that very few places actually track that so. To answer that question the question of me wanted to answer about Doug Evans and his office. Intel this month's. Long almost yearlong data project for digging literally hockey track town transcript in a court houses. Old men's bathrooms. Abandoned storage containers all jails and moms documents are kept in some crazy places. But assembling all of these transcripts a 1151000. Pages of records. Performing some data magic on all of that coating it entering and covered this pattern and at the end of today. For the year. We're able to say we have found that Evans strikes by actors a four and a half times agree that the justices like catch catch on to that today we did they put much water on the facility that information was included in briefs that were filed to the Supreme Court as part of Chris flowers petition. And but that the justices are were very narrowly focused today specifically on what happened. In the six trial going again in this larger context of the bid actions the prosecutor over the past it almost three that I. Let's as far as someone who just started looking at this case today what's replete passing aside from these issues of race the sort of this seeming lack of evidence I mean I mean that Tehran is up isn't on the substance that's what draws you into the case as well. PN analyst saying the Supreme Court is not here to assess the evidence against Curtis flowers that's not its rolled right. That's something that we did. In the podcast and the evidence against Chris flowers is very no witnesses no murder weapon of physical evidence and be one person who says there was a jailhouse confession was sort of a suspect that your. And quite an. There isn't there is no physical evidence the case was almost entirely circumstantial with the exception of this one jailhouse informant. Who said that Curtis flowers he confessed to them when they weren't part from prison together. And our podcast we were able to reach this informant a Dell com and on contraband cell son from his cell impression president and he told us that that was a lie he admitted up to add get a break up. Potentially they act and come forward if there was a seventh trial and I wanna put that to cage shop before we wrap up here gate. You know depending upon its does sound like from this tomorrow is reporting that the justices were sort of inclined. To its hit two to strike down this conviction I've Curtis flowers. Dan could open potentially a seventh trial for this man yeah. You know it seems totally possible one that the fact that the court took the case up at all it doesn't typically take a case like this is to a firm with Mississippi Supreme Court did which was to allow the conviction to stand. And and I'll also say that this is an area plot in which even the supreme court's conservative justices. Sometimes will side with the criminal defendants so Roberts wrote an opinion two years ago finding abouts in violation that is discrimination in a juror strike. Alito wrote an opinion in 2008. I'll also throwing out a conviction because there had been racial bias in removing jurors so this is the case were you might not even CE. You know 54 outcome but it seems at least conceivable that you might hound you know 67 or eight votes in favor of extending the case back for a seventh trial and I will say. I would be very surprised at the state of Mississippi allows Evans to go forward again as the prosecutor because despite being reverse time and time again. He you know previously had been given the opportunity to retry the case. Seems like the questionable choice on the part of Mississippi and I don't know if they would make it again the case back for sat. And we should do I hear their opinion I think by the end of the term here should be an engineer's cap. And we are now checking to see some air I think he's so much and I think the American public media and in the dark podcast. And of course the fabulous Kate shop our Supreme Court analyst who joins us in a very busy Wednesday thank you so much Kate.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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