The US Supreme Court has overturned the conviction of a black inmate on death row in Mississippi, citing a prosecutor’s exclusion of black jurors.
The justices ruled that prosecutors in the trials of Curtis Flowers unconstitutionally removed African-American jurors from selection.
Flowers, 49, has been tried six times for the 1996 murders of four furniture store workers in Winona, Mississippi.
Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch dissented in the 7-2 vote.
Flowers’ case ended with a mistrial twice. In three trials, Flowers was convicted, but the Mississippi Supreme Court overturned the decision due to “numerous instances of prosecutorial misconduct”, including discriminating against black jurors.
In this sixth trial prosecutors disallowed five of six black jurors. Flowers argued that prosecutors were again discriminating on basis of race.
But the Mississippi Supreme Court allowed the conviction to stand – a ruling the Supreme Court has now reversed.
Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote the majority opinion.
In addition to challenging most potential black jurors, “the State engaged in dramatically disparate questioning of black and white prospective jurors”, Justice Kavanaugh wrote.
In the sixth trial, prosecutors used five of six peremptory strikes against potential black jurors, so that only one African-American sat on the panel.
One black juror eliminated by prosecutors, Carolyn Wright, was “similarly situated to white prospective jurors who were not struck by the State”, said the majority ruling.
“All of the relevant facts and circumstances taken together establish that the trial court committed clear error in concluding that the State’s peremptory strike of black prospective juror Carolyn Wright was not ‘motivated in substantial part by discriminatory intent’,” Justice Kavanaugh wrote.
Curtis Flowers: Supreme Court reverses death row conviction