Following a stinging but anticipated rebuke last week from the U.S. Supreme Court on his handling of the prosecution of Curtis Flowers, District Attorney Doug Evans has not said whether he will try to prosecute Flowers a seventh time for the Tardy Furniture murders.
Evans’ wife, though, has strongly suggested he will bow out of the 23-year-old case.
Contacted at their home Friday following the 7-2 decision overturning Flowers’ conviction due to racial bias by prosecutors, Patsy Evans told a Biloxi newspaper reporter that she was “pretty sure” her husband wouldn’t prosecute the case again himself. “Would you?” she was quoted as asking.
Let’s hope she knows her husband’s mind.
Doug Evans’ role in prosecuting this horrible crime, in which four persons were gunned down in 1996 in a Winona furniture store, has been tainted beyond repair. Friday’s ruling from the Supreme Court is now the fourth time Flowers’ conviction has been thrown out, mostly due to prosecutorial misconduct in what state or federal appellate courts have determined was a concerted effort to keep blacks from deciding the fate of the black defendant. In the other two trials, the jury could not agree on a verdict.
The case — especially Evans’ handling of the prosecution — has drawn intense scrutiny from the state and national media, including a yearlong examination by APM Reports. That reputable news outlet found, after conducting exhaustive research into Evans’ career as a prosecutor, that over a 15-year period ending in 2017, the white district attorney had eliminated blacks from juries at more than four times the rate of whites, a pattern that has been underscored with the Flowers’ prosecution.
Justice Brett Kavanaugh, the most recent appointee to the Supreme Court, wrote in the majority opinion that “the numbers speak loudly” as to the prosecution’s efforts to stack the deck for a conviction. In the Flowers’ trials, Evans used pre-emptory challenges — the limited prerogative of counsel to excuse jurors without having to state a reason — 42 times. For 41 of those challenges, including all five strikes in the sixth trial, the jurors were African-American. Kavanaugh found that even in that 2010 trial, at least one black juror had been excused contrary to the guidelines the Supreme Court set up more than 30 years ago to make sure any jury strikes are race-neutral.
Evans must put his ego aside and realize that his continued involvement in the prosecution is untenable. Even if he could secure a conviction that stuck, it would forever be doubted because of his past errors, as cited by the highest court in the land.
Is Flowers guilty? There are strong beliefs on both sides of that question. There is both incriminating circumstantial evidence against him as well as tainted evidence, such as jailhouse snitches who later recanted. A fresh set of prosecutorial eyes — such as from the Attorney General’s Office — needs to be asked to examine the evidence and decide whether there is really enough there to pursue a nearly unprecedented seventh trial, or whether Flowers should be set free after some two decades on death row.
Under Mississippi law, the attorney general cannot take over unless requested to by Evans. If the district attorney’s priority is justice, the just course for him is to make that request and step aside.