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The (re)trial of Curtis Flowers looks to be stacked against him (again)

 
 
littlek
 
Reply Thu 10 Jun, 2010 05:58 pm
A very good friend of mine went down to Mississippi to observe a court case - a retrial of a man on death row. This is not an email hoax. She agreed to let me post this here because it would get the word out - the story should be wide spread. Of course if you're someone who can drop a line to someone who can make a difference, that'd be great. (bold text my emphasis)

Intro email:
Quote:
Hello,

I'm writing from a motel in Winona, Mississippi. I'm spending my vacation in the lovely town of Winona so I can attend a capital murder trial for a man named Curtis Flowers. He is accused of murdering four people in 1996 and this will be the sixth time he is being tried for this crime. I'm here with Friends of Justice, a Southern nonprofit that defends due process in the criminal justice system. We're trying to bring Curtis's case to national attention because we believe he is the innocent victim of a racially biased prosecution (and it looks like we might be succeeding in getting that media attention, based on this recent CNN story and this one in they NYT).

I've volunteered with Friends of Justice off and on for the last ten years since I worked as a VISTA volunteer in Plainview, Texas and got involved with the Tulia drug sting cases. Watching what happened in Tulia, where innocent people were wrongly accused and sentenced, I saw that often there really is no decent legal help for poor criminal defendants in the South. It was only when we got national media attention on the cases that things changed (the defendants were eventually pardoned by the Governor). The same thing has happened in other cases Friends of Justice has worked on in Hearne, Texas and in Jena, Texas.

I'm writing to you because some of you asked why I was going to Mississippi and I couldn't figure out how to explain it in a quick conversation. I tried a few times to write up a synopsis of the case and the five trials, but it was getting very complicated. Now thanks to the CNN and NYT pieces I don't have to do it. I would, of course also love your support (especially if you have media connections) for Friends of Justice.

Thanks,
Lili



Follow-Up Email:
Quote:
Wait, I need to repeat that bit, the judge thought there was no cause to dismiss a juror who had actually WATCHED two of the previous trials.


There's also the inherent craziness of our criminal system, where the only people who can be on the jury are people who say the would consider imposing the death penalty. In this case the jurors are interviewed individually for this part, so potential jurors have to be willing to look right at Curtis and his family and say that yes, they could consider killing him. Most of the black jurors interviewed yesterday couldn't do it, while most of the white ones, including close family friends of the victims, said yes, and also noted they could be absolutely fair and impartial to Curtis.


It's my understanding that Curtis decided not to change venues because local people might know him and because he could not control where in Mississippi the trial was moved (the judge, the one who tried him last time, would get to decide that).


Yesterday the defense tried to present evidence that black jury members were afraid to be on the jury. In describing a climate of racial intimidation, the defense attorney pointed out that her African-American intern was stopped while driving into town. The intern was told to keep her hands on the wheel and her eyes on the road. She was asked what she was doing in town and told not to make any trouble. There was no answer when she asked what law she had broken. The judge was visibly outraged by this story, saying it was preposterous and the intern was probably speeding or otherwise breaking the law. The intern told me it took everything she had to keep quiet while the judge called her a liar.


There are also a lot of ridiculous details about the case itself that make me crazy. For example, the state's big piece of physical evidence is the gunpowder residue found on Curtis's hand hours after the shooting. It makes you at least seriously question Curtis's innocence, right? But Alan Bean explained the police had found only a single micron of residue on his hand, and that the FBI doesn't use this kind of evidence any more because small amounts of residue can easily be picked up by doing things like say, touching handcuff or furniture at a police station or, even during the testing process itself.


The eyewitness testimony would also seem to reasonably place Curtis at the crime scene, or at least not preclude the possibility, until you learn there were no willing witnesses until the state posted a $30,000 reward and went knocking on doors to ask people to testify. Once you know that, you understand why the physical descriptions by eyewitnesses are contradictory. One said he was wearing long pants and a jacket. A JACKET . . . IN MISSISSIPPI . . . IN JULY. Another said it was shorts and a t-shirt).


I don't know if the prosecutor and judge really believe Curtis is guilty, or if they both just want to satisfy the victims' families that the murderer has been found.


I do believe what we're doing here is helpful though. When I worked on a Friends of Justice case in Tulia, Texas ten years ago I really sort of thought all the time we spent getting media attention and the time Alan later spent reviving media interest was pretty futile, but then miraculously the media attention turned into pressure on the legal system which turned into, um, justice. It's also what Alan did with Jena "" took a story local people told him and made it into a national story and now the kids arrested in Jena are in college, not prison. So, I'm trying to be hopeful.


Thanks for everyone for the donations to Friends of Justice and the babysitting help and covering my cases at work. It means so much for me that I get to be here and try to help.

-lili


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Type: Discussion • Score: 2 • Views: 2,647 • Replies: 22
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Rockhead
 
  1  
Reply Thu 10 Jun, 2010 06:14 pm
@littlek,
don't much miss the deep south.

sad but true based on my travels there.
0 Replies
 
littlek
 
  1  
Reply Sat 12 Jun, 2010 05:07 pm
http://friendsofjustice.wordpress.com/2010/06/11/african-american-mississippi-man-starts-record-sixth-murder-trial/
0 Replies
 
littlek
 
  2  
Reply Sat 12 Jun, 2010 08:35 pm
Really? No one else has anything to say about this?
0 Replies
 
ehBeth
 
  1  
Reply Sat 12 Jun, 2010 08:38 pm
Just saw this.

Hard to believe this sort of thing still happens.

Off to read more.
0 Replies
 
Mame
 
  1  
Reply Sun 13 Jun, 2010 07:04 am
Wow... wonder how many innocent people are in the same boat. That is so disillusioning. I also wonder how much hope he (and the other innocents) has.
littlek
 
  1  
Reply Tue 15 Jun, 2010 09:12 pm
@Mame,
Disillusionment - great way to describe it.
0 Replies
 
Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Tue 15 Jun, 2010 11:55 pm
@littlek,
For some reason, I'm only finding this now. This sounds very depressing. But since I don't know anyone who can make a difference, all I can say is, more power to Lilli.
Krumple
 
  1  
Reply Wed 16 Jun, 2010 12:08 am
@littlek,
I'm not even from the south, and have never been to any of the "southern" states but right here in the pacific northwest we have racially motivated attacks from police officers. Just recently a young black girl was grabbed forcefully by a police officer and slammed to the ground for j walking. The cop tried to claim that she was trying to get a way but she didn't see the police officer charging after her because she was looking the other direction. It was completely uncalled for and yet i bet absolutely nothing will be done because the way cops are viewed as super heroes that can never do no wrong. if you ask me the criminals are actually the ones with the handcuffs and badges most of the time.
0 Replies
 
Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Wed 16 Jun, 2010 12:13 am
@Thomas,
One point after Googling the case: I would be interested to read the original paper trail of the case---parties' briefs, court options (trial, appellate, supreme), for this trial and the five predecessors. I commend the Friends of Justice for trying to do the right thing. But every agenda---including an agenda to do the right thing---can obscure the search for the truth. That's why I look at original documents before committing to a viewpoint. Somehow neither side seems to be interested in posting the paper trail on their websites.
0 Replies
 
Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Wed 16 Jun, 2010 09:26 am
@littlek,
littlek wrote:
Wait, I need to repeat that bit, the judge thought there was no cause to dismiss a juror who had actually WATCHED two of the previous trials.

On re-reading, I have to wonder: where was Curtis's defender in this picture? If the facts are that clear, and he moved to dismiss that juror, that alone should guarantee that the Mississippi Supreme Court throw out any conviction again. If he didn't move to dismiss him, what does that say about the defender? Is he one of those overworked, underpaid, barely-qualified underachievers that pass for public defenders in some states?
0 Replies
 
littlek
 
  1  
Reply Fri 18 Jun, 2010 07:30 pm
http://www.cnn.com/2010/CRIME/06/18/mississippi.curtis.flowers/

Parts excerpted below:

Quote:
On the ninth day -- Friday -- Curtis, 40, was found guilty of four counts of murder in the July 16, 1996 shooting deaths of four people inside the Tardy family's furniture store in downtown Winona.

The seven women and five men on the jury took just half an hour to resolve a case that has haunted the courts of Montgomery County, Mississippi, for 13 years.

The earlier convictions were reversed, based on findings of prosecutorial misconduct in the first two trials and racial discrimination in choosing the jury in the third trial. The fourth trial ended in a hung jury, with panelists split 5-7 along racial lines. The fifth trial, in 2008, also ended in a mistrial after a lone black juror held out for acquittal.

The previous outcomes raised allegations from the defendant's supporters that the prosecution is racially motivated. They say Flowers cannot get a fair trial in Montgomery County as long as whites outnumber blacks on the jury. This time around, one black juror and two black alternates have been chosen.
that have been leading to wrongful convictions are involved in this case.


A step in the right direction, according to Bean, would be to seat a jury that represents the racial diversity of Montgomery County, where about 45 percent of the population is black. But at the sixth trial, some blacks in the jury pool were dismissed because of personal ties to the defendant and his family...
0 Replies
 
msolga
 
  1  
Reply Fri 18 Jun, 2010 07:53 pm
@littlek,
Quote:
...I'm spending my vacation in the lovely town of Winona so I can attend a capital murder trial for a man named Curtis Flowers. He is accused of murdering four people in 1996 and this will be the sixth time he is being tried for this crime. ...


This is his sixth trial for the same "offense"?
Since 1996?
And he's received a death sentence each time?
I find that incredible.
How many retrials are permissible in that state before there's an acknowledgment that something could be seriously flawed with the process?
(Knowing next to nothing about state & federal law in the US..) is it possible for this case to be heard in a federal court?

Just caught up with this thread, k. Congratulations to your friend, Lili for her commitment.
0 Replies
 
littlek
 
  1  
Reply Fri 18 Jun, 2010 08:02 pm
I can't explain the court system to you, MsO. I thought that you were tried once per level and that you moved up in the system after each appeal.
Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Fri 18 Jun, 2010 08:15 pm
I found three of the earlier Mississippi Supreme Court cases. (They're all PDFs--- one (2000), two (2003), three (2004).) They make an interesting contrast to some of the voices cited in the CNN report, which says that "many in Winona, including the victims' families, resent the suggestions that race is playing a role in the only known instance in recent history of a person standing trial six times for capital murder. They blame Friends of Justice for injecting "the race card" into the trial." Years before Friends of Justice got involved, Mississipi's own Supreme Court had already found that the race card had been played---by the white prosecution.

I have a feeling Mississippi's Supreme Court will revisit this case a fourth time.
0 Replies
 
msolga
 
  1  
Reply Fri 18 Jun, 2010 08:25 pm
@littlek,
Thanks anyway, k.

I'm hoping one of A2K's lawyers, or someone who knows about the law, will discover this thread & explain the mysterious of the law (for me, anyway) & how it works in the US.

Six retrials for the same "offense", in the same state system, doesn't make sense to me.

I'd also be very interested (though you might not know the facts) about the grounds for each retrial. New evidence? Procedural issue?

It certainly sounds like a very unusual state of affairs!
0 Replies
 
Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Fri 18 Jun, 2010 08:28 pm
@littlek,
littlek wrote:

I can't explain the court system to you, MsO. I thought that you were tried once per level and that you moved up in the system after each appeal.

No---when a higher court finds that a lower court made a mistake, the higher can send the case back for a trial consistent with its decision. (Or, if the supreme court overrules an appeals court on a matter of law, it will send the case back to the appeals court for an opinion consistent with the Supreme Court's.) If the lower case makes a new mistake (or repeats its old one), it can be appealed again, struck down again, and sent back again. As I understand it, Curtis Flowers could die of old age in prison while his case ping-pongs back and forth between the various layers of the court system.
msolga
 
  1  
Reply Fri 18 Jun, 2010 08:31 pm
@Thomas,
Thank you, Thomas.

All I can say is poor Curtis Flowers! He could well die in prison while the endless legal ping-ponging over his case goes on & on!
Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Fri 18 Jun, 2010 08:46 pm
@msolga,
Needless to say, I'm not a lawyer.
Thomas
 
  2  
Reply Fri 18 Jun, 2010 09:02 pm
Here is the Supreme Court summary of why it struck down Flower's case the first time

In its 2000 decision, the Mississippi Supreme Court wrote:
ISSUES

I. THE CIRCUIT COURT ERRED, VIOLATING FLOWERS'S RIGHTS UNDER THE FOURTEENTH AMENDMENT, WHEN IT OVERRULED THE DEFENDANT'S BATSON MOTION

II. FLOWERS WAS DENIED HIS FUNDAMENTAL RIGHT TO A FAIR TRIAL BY THE ADMISSION OF EVIDENCE AND ARGUMENT OF OTHER CRIMES IN VIOLATION OF THE MISSISSIPPI CONSTITUTION, LAW, RULES OF EVIDENCE AND SIXTH AND FOURTEENTH AMENDMENTS TO THE UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION.

III. FLOWERS WAS DENIED HIS FUNDAMENTAL RIGHT TO A FAIR TRIAL DUE TO PROSECUTORIAL MISCONDUCT

IV. FLOWERS WAS DENIED HIS FUNDAMENTAL RIGHT TO A FAIR TRIAL BY THE TRIAL COURT'S IMPROPER AND HIGHLY PREJUDICIAL COMMENTS ON THE EVIDENCE BEFORE THE JURY

V. FLOWERS WAS DENIED HIS FUNDAMENTAL RIGHT TO A FAIR TRIAL BY THE JURY'S LACK OF KNOWLEDGE REGARDING THE TESTIMONY OF TIMOTHY HAYMORE AND THE TRIAL COURT ERRED EITHER BY EXCLUDING HIM FROM TESTIFYING OR, IN THE ALTERNATIVE, BY REFUSING TO CONTINUE THE TRIAL UNTIL FREDERICK VEAL RETURNED TO COURT

VI. FLOWERS WAS DENIED HIS RIGHT TO EFFECTIVE ASSISTANCE OF COUNSEL IN VIOLATION OF THE SIXTH AND FOURTEENTH AMENDMENTS TO THE UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION AND ARTICLE 3, SECTIONS 14 AND 26 OF THE MISSISSIPPI CONSTITUTION VII. FLOWERS WAS DENIED HIS FUNDAMENTAL RIGHT TO A FAIR TRIAL DUE TO THE TRIAL COURT'S FAILURE TO INSTRUCT THE JURY THAT THE ALLEGED PRIOR INCONSISTENT STATEMENTS OF HIS WITNESSES WERE NOT TO BE CONSIDERED AS SUBSTANTIVE EVIDENCE BUT ONLY FOR IMPEACHMENT AND REFUSAL OF INSTRUCTION D-12

VIII. THE TRIAL COURT COMMITTED REVERSIBLE ERROR BY OVERRULING FLOWERS'S OBJECTIONS TO THE TESTIMONY OF JACK MATTHEWS

IX. THE TRIAL COURT COMMITTED REVERSIBLE ERROR BY REFUSING THE CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE INSTRUCTIONS OFFERED BY FLOWERS X. THE EVIDENCE WAS INSUFFICIENT TO SUPPORT FLOWERS'S CONVICTION FOR CAPITAL MURDER AND THE VERDICT OF DEATH.

XI. THE TRIAL COURT ERRED BY REFUSING INSTRUCTIONS D-11 AND D-14 AND, CONSEQUENTLY, THE JURY WAS INADEQUATELY INSTRUCTED ON THE LAW AS TO CAPITAL MURDER VIOLATING FLOWERS'S RIGHTS UNDER THE FEDERAL AND STATE CONSTITUTIONS.

XII. PATRICIA HOLLMAN'S TESTIMONY REGARDING A STATEMENT ALLEGEDLY MADE BY FLOWERS AND HER LAY OPINION AS TO THE MEANING OF THE STATEMENT WAS INADMISSIBLE AND RESULTED IN PREJUDICE REQUIRING REVERSAL.

XIII. THE TRIAL COURT ERRED BY OVERRULING FLOWERS' OBJECTION TO EXHIBITS S 15, S 15A, S 17 AND S 17 A AND FLOWERS WAS DENIED HIS FUNDAMENTAL RIGHT TO A FAIR TRIAL BY THE ADMISSION OF EXHIBITS S 16, S 16A, S 20, S 20A, S 21 AND S 21A.

XIV. THE TRIAL COURT COMMITTED REVERSIBLE ERROR BY EXCLUDING THE TESTIMONY OF KHARITA BASKIN.

XV. FLOWERS WAS DENIED HIS FUNDAMENTAL RIGHT TO A FAIR TRIAL BY THE ADMISSION OF EVIDENCE AND ARGUMENT OF ANOTHER CRIME DURING THE SENTENCING PHASE.

XVI. FLOWERS WAS DENIED HIS FUNDAMENTAL RIGHT TO A FAIR TRIAL DUE TO PROSECUTORIAL MISCONDUCT DURING THE SENTENCING PHASE. XVII. FLOWERS WAS DENIED A FAIR AND RELIABLE SENTENCING HEARING DUE TO AN INADEQUATE JURY INSTRUCTION ON THE AGGRAVATING CIRCUMSTANCE OF "PECUNIARY GAIN" AND THE PROSECUTION'S COMMENT THEREON.

XVIII. THE SUBMISSION OF THE "ROBBERY-PECUNIARY GAIN" AGGRAVATING FACTOR, AND THE COURT'S REFUSAL OF INSTRUCTIONS DS-7 AND DS-8, VIOLATED THE FIRST AND FOURTEENTH AMENDMENTS TO THE CONSTITUTION.

XIX. THE CIRCUIT JUDGE VIOLATED MISSISSIPPI LAW AND THE EIGHTH AND FOURTEENTH AMENDMENTS TO THE UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION BY INSTRUCTING THE JURY THAT IT COULD CONSIDER THE DEATHS OF THE VICTIMS IN OTHER CASES UNDER INDICTMENT AS AN AGGRAVATING CIRCUMSTANCE, ESPECIALLY WHERE NO COMPETENT EVIDENCE SUPPORTED THIS AGGRAVATING FACTOR.

XX. FLOWERS WAS DENIED HIS FUNDAMENTAL RIGHT TO A FAIR TRIAL BY THE CUMULATIVE EFFECT OF THE MATTERS ADDRESSED ABOVE.


(All-caps in the original.)
 

 
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