NEW ALBANY • Curtis Flowers has been tried six times for murder, but if he’s tried a seventh time the state’s Republican gubernatorial candidates are wary of addressing whether a prosecutor with a tainted history of racist jury selection should remain involved.
A U.S. Supreme Court majority found last week that District Attorney Doug Evans “was motivated in substantial part by discriminatory intent” in his handling of jury selection of a 2010 trial that ended in a guilty verdict for Flowers over a 1996 quadruple-slaying in Winona.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Waller is a former chief justice of the state Supreme Court and dissented from the 2017 court ruling that the nation’s own high court has now overturned.
With the case back in Mississippi, a decision about a potential seventh prosecution rests with Evans, the local district attorney. Despite his long history with the case, only Evans can invite the participation of the state Attorney General, which would pave the way for a special prosecutor.
At a Union County campaign stop Monday, Waller told the Daily Journal he has full confidence Evans will make the appropriate decision about how to proceed.
“I think the decision is in Mr. Doug Evans’ court,” Waller said. “I have got confidence in Mr. Evans’ ability to make the right decision. I think we need to start there and see what he does. I think Mr. Flowers can get a fair trial there. I think that the message from the U.S. Supreme Court is loud and clear. So, I’m confident that the process will end in an appropriate manner.”
In his dissent from the 2017 case, Waller did express concern about Evans.
“Because the prosecution’s mischaracterizations of the evidence during closing arguments affected Flowers’s fundamental right to a fair trial, I respectfully dissent,” Waller wrote. “Applying heightened scrutiny, I find plain error in the prosecution’s mischaracterizations, particularly given our admonishments in Flowers II. Therefore, I would reverse the judgment in this case and remand for a new trial.”
Flowers is a death row inmate who has been incarcerated for more than 20 years while facing repeated trials for the murder of four people at Tardy Furniture Store in downtown Winona on July 16, 1996.
All trials have either resulted in mistrials or convictions that were later overturned.
Evans has not formally announced his plans for the case, but has told the Grenada Star he will retry Flowers for the seventh time.
“He will have to be retried,” Evans said. “The decision (the Supreme Court) made sent it back to have another trial. At this point, I haven’t thought much other than that. I have to say I was surprised by the decision.”
Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves also said he would refrain from saying whether Evans should step aside. Speaking Monday during a campaign event in Tupelo at Trigger Time Indoor Shooting Center, Reeves expressed more concern about any involvement by incumbent Attorney General Jim Hood, who is a Democrat now running for governor.
“I would not want this attorney general to step in and do anything with his liberal policies,” Reeves said.
Robert Foster, the third Republican candidate for governor, did not know many specifics about the case, but said that all people deserve a fair trial.
“The Supreme Court should always make sure that if a state gets out of line, that they’re checked back into balance,” Foster said. “It’s important not just for our state, but our nation that we have equality under the law.”
Hood previously told the Daily Journal he is confident Evans would take the U.S. Supreme Court’s guidance into account as he determines how to proceed.
“The Court has remanded the case for retrial,” Hood said. “It will be the duty of the district attorney to re-evaluate the case. If the decision is to retry the case, I am confident the Court’s guidance will be followed.”
The case received heightened attention after “In the Dark” podcast by APM Reports covered the case in-depth last year.