Court demands new look at race of jurors in 3 convictions
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court says lower courts in Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi must re-examine three convictions for evidence of racial prejudice in jury selection.
The court ruled Monday in the cases of Christopher Floyd of Alabama, Jabari Williams of Louisiana and Curtis Giovanni Flowers of Mississippi.
The brief decisions followed the court’s May decision to overturn the conviction and death sentence of a Georgia man because prosecutors violated the Constitution by excluding African-Americans from the all-white jury that determined his fate.
The 7-1 ruling in favor of death row inmate Timothy Tyrone Foster came in a case in which defense lawyers obtained strikingly frank notes from prosecutors detailing efforts to keep African-Americans off Foster’s jury. The decision broke no new ground in efforts to fight racial discrimination in jury selection but underscored the importance of a 30-year-old high court ruling that took aim at the exclusion of minorities from juries.
Flowers has been convicted of capital murder four times in the fatal shootings of a Winona, Mississippi, furniture store owner and three employees in 1996. The first three convictions were overturned, and two other trials ended in hung juries. The Mississippi Supreme Court upheld his death sentence in 2014 on an automatic appeal after the fourth conviction in 2010, rejecting arguments regarding racial prejudice in jury selection.
That decision was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, leading to Monday’s ruling. While that appeal was pending, though, other lawyers raised the same issue in a separate appeal. In litigation relating to that separate appeal last month, the state Supreme Court ruled that a state judge didn’t have to give Flowers’ lawyers prosecutors’ notes from jury selection. Defense lawyers hoped the notes would show racial bias by prosecutors in excluding potential jurors, saying they believe local prosecutors have a history of excluding jurors in racially biased ways. The state and prosecutors have denied wrongdoing, and Flowers remains on Mississippi’s death row.
Bryan Stevenson, an attorney with the Montgomery, Alabama-based Equal Justice Initiative who is representing Christopher Floyd, said they had challenged the exclusion of African-Americans from Floyd’s trial in Dothan. Stevenson said the prosecutor marked potential African-American jurors with a “B″ to indicate their race on the jury list and could not give a reason for excluding at least one of the African-Americans he’d objected to from the jury.
Floyd is white and was tried by an all-white jury, Stevenson said. Stevenson said the organization has found that even when the defendants are white some prosecutors still don’t trust African-Americans to serve on juries. He said in Houston County, where Floyd was tried, several death penalty cases have been reversed after courts found intentional racial discrimination in jury selection.
Williams, given a mandatory life sentence without parole in for the 2011 shooting of a man near a New Orleans gas station, was tried after prosecutors struck six African-Americans from the jury. Defense lawyers say the trial court wrongly aided prosecutors by substituting its own race-neutral reasons for striking the jurors in place of those offered by prosecutors.
Associated Press writer Rebecca Santana contributed to this report from New Orleans.
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This story has been corrected to show that Jabari Williams is sentenced to life without parole, not death.