District 5 Attorney Doug Evans, who prosecuted Curtis Flowers, 52, six times for murder in Winona, Miss., starting back in 1997, is running for District 5 circuit judge this fall. His opponent Charles Latham who attended the same Grenada, Miss., high school in the early 1970s plans to do all he can to stop him.
Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch dropped the charges against Flowers, who has maintained that he is innocent, in 2020.
District 5 covers seven Mississippi counties—Attala, Carroll, Choctaw, Grenada, Montgomery, Webster and Winston—with a combined population of less than 100,000, with about a third being Black people. Evans, who is white, had been district attorney there since 1991.
Two district judges serve District 5. An incumbent, Joseph H. (Joey) Loper, Jr, is running unopposed for one of the seats, while six candidates, including Evans, are in the running to replace late Circuit Court Judge George Mitchell Jr in the non-partisan race.
“I actually went to school with Doug Evans, briefly back when we integrated the schools; I’m in the class of ‘71; Doug Evans is the class of 1970,” Latham, who is Black, told the Mississippi Free Press by phone on June 6.
Latham remembered the treatment white students dealt to him and other Black students coming to the school. He moved from Carrie Dotson High School. “When we integrated the schools, they jumped on us on the way to school, they tried to beat us on the way back to school; they tried to fight us while we were in school, they tried to make life miserable for us while we were over there,” he recalled. “They did not want us there—point-blank and simple.”
“After 1971, because people actually refused to go to school with us, they set up their own school,” he added, referring to one of myriad segregation schools, Kirk Academy High School. “So that was the prevalent attitude here in Grenada; that’s what I personally experienced.”
Latham said that because of his “experiences with racism,” he left Grenada in 1971 and returned in 2004 after retiring as a quality assurance manager with the U.S. Navy.
“I did not personally witness (Evans) do anything racist, if you will, when we were in high school, because I didn’t personally know him, but I just know of the environment that we were under,” he said. “When we integrated the school, we were met with stiff resistance by his classmates (and) folks in that area.”
“So I don’t know if his attitude has changed since back then,” Latham added during the interview. “A lot of people I went to school with, (their) attitude have changed, and we are friends now and actually work together on different things.”
Latham said he believes that Evans “over-prosecuted” Flowers. “It seems in my mind, and based on the reporting and evidence that I’ve seen, that he did everything he could to convict an innocent man—whether he was innocent or not. To take that racist approach eliminating Black jurors, I think was the wrong thing to do.”
State Determined to ‘Rid the Jury of Black Individuals’
In June 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Mississippi Supreme Court to uphold a guilty verdict in Flowers’ sixth trial. “In sum, the State’s pattern of striking black prospective jurors persisted from Flowers’ first trial through Flowers’ sixth trial,” Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote for the court in the 7-2 opinion. “In the six trials combined, the State struck 41 of the 42 black prospective jurors it could have struck.”
“The State’s relentless, determined effort to rid the jury of black individuals strongly suggests that the State wanted to try Flowers before a jury with as few black jurors as possible, and ideally before an all-white jury,” he added. “The State’s actions in the first four trials necessarily inform our assessment of the State’s intent going into Flowers’ sixth trial. We cannot ignore that history. We cannot take that history out of the case.
In a concurring opinion, Justice Samuel Alito wrote that the case was “highly unusual” and “likely one of a kind.”
“In light of all that had gone before, it was risky for the case to be tried once again by the same prosecutor in Montgomery County,” he wrote. “Were it not for the unique combinations of circumstances present here, I would have no trouble affirming the decision of the Supreme Court of Mississippi, which conscientiously applied the legal standards applicable in less unusual cases.”
“But viewing the totality of the circumstances present here, I agree with the Court that petitioner’s capital conviction cannot stand,” Alito added.
Justice Clarence Thomas wrote a dissent that “the majority does not cite even a single question that it thinks suggests racial discrimination.”
“Otherwise, the opinion distorts our legal standards, ignores the record, and reflects utter disrespect for the careful analysis of the Mississippi courts,” he continued, defending the striking of Black jurors in the case. “Any competent prosecutor would have exercised the same strikes as the State did in this trial.”
“And although the Court’s opinion might boost its self-esteem, it also needlessly prolongs the suffering of four victims’ families,” Thomas added.
Attala County NAACP Sued Evans
The Attala County branch of NAACP and four other plaintiffs from District 5 filed a complaint against Evans in the U.S. Northern District Court of Mississippi in November 2019. MacArthur Justice Center Attorneys James Craig and Emily Washington and NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc. attorneys Christopher Kemmitt and Liliana Zaragoza represented the plaintiffs.
The plaintiffs’ attorneys asked the court to “[i]ssue a permanent injunction forbidding (Evans) and his agents, employees, and successors in office from maintaining a custom, usage, and/or policy of exercising peremptory challenges against prospective Black jurors because of their race.”
Peremptory challenges, uslegal.com explains, are the right of the plaintiff and defendant in a jury trial to have a juror dismissed before trial without presenting a reason, as opposed to “challenge for cause,” which requires a rationale as to why the juror could not be impartial.
Judge Debra M. Brown dismissed the case “because the relief requested by the plaintiffs would result in an ongoing audit of state criminal proceedings,” she wrote in September 2020. The issue is now before the U.S. Court of Appeals after oral arguments before the court in October 2021.
MacArthur Justice Center attorneys Craig and Washington referenced the case in a statement they provided to the Mississippi Free Press on June 7, 2022. “It is for the citizens of the Fifth Circuit Court District to decide if Mr. Evans is the kind of lawyer that should be ruling on cases as a circuit judge,” they wrote. “We hope they consider the facts alleged in Attala County, Mississippi, Branch of the NAACP, et al., v. Evans.”
“Our Complaint cited an American Public Media study conducted of 225 trials from 1992 to 2017 in the Fifth Circuit Court District; in those trials the District Attorney’s Office under Doug Evans struck 50% of eligible Black prospective jurors, 4.4 times more than the rate at which it struck white jurors,” they added. “So Mr. Evans’ use of peremptory challenges to prevent Black citizens from serving on trial juries is not limited to the Curtis Flowers prosecution, in which Mr. Evans was found to be racially discriminatory in the second trial by Circuit Judge Morgan, in the third trial by the Mississippi Supreme Court, and in the sixth trial by the United States Supreme Court.”
Evans ‘Has Not Been Fair’
The other five contestants for the November election are Alan D. Lancaster, Kasey Burney Young, Bradley Clayton, Zachary A. Madison and Doug S. Crosby. After emailed requests from the Mississippi Free Press to all the candidates, Young, Crosby, Madison and Lancaster provided the linked statements on their campaign platforms. The Mississippi Secretary of State’s office reports 77 circuit-court candidates across Mississippi in the coming November election.
Evans did not respond to repeated calls and emails to his office five different times between June 3 and June 7, 2022. A receptionist at the office said on June 7: “You called the other day. I gave him the message. He got the message to call you back. So he’ll get to you when he can.”
One Voice Mississippi Executive Director Nsombi Lambright told the Mississippi Free Press on June 6, 2022, that though many district attorneys and public defenders end up as judges, Evans’ case was different. “We hope that the voters in that particular district will make sure that they elect the judge that will be fairer in their judicial practices than Doug Evans has been as a prosecutor in this area; because we know that—from the history of many of his cases, including the Curtis Flowers’ case—that he has not been fair by making sure that black jurors were excluded from cases,” she said.
The Mississippi Free Press reached out to Curtis Flowers via his lawyer, Rob McDuff, on May 26, 2022, for comments on Evans’ judicial seat candidature. McDuff replied in a text: “Neither Curtis Flowers nor I have any comment.” (McDuff is representing the Mississippi Free Press in a separate transparency matter, but has no influence on this reporting.)
Alicia Netterville was the deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi and now works independently as the principal of Acclivity Group, LLC. “When I saw that Doug Evans was running for judge, it was very disturbing in light of the way that he handled the prosecution of Curtis Flowers, and I think it is something that the Black community in particular, in that district needs to be aware of,” she said in a phone interview on June 6, 2022, with the Mississippi Free Press.
“If you have a DA that was accused of discrimination against Blacks serving on jurors, that would not logically be the type of person that would want to serve as a judge,” she added.
In the Monday interview with the Mississippi Free Press, Latham, who unsuccessfully ran for mayor of Grenada three times—in 2012, 2016 and 2020—wondered about Evans’ attitude, adding that he is committed to rallying people to not vote for Evans in November 2022 based on records prosecuting Curtis Flowers.
“If he had that attitude towards this man, I wonder what type of attitude he’d have toward other Black folks who are going through the judicial process,” he said. “I’m going to do everything I personally can to let people know about the type of man that I’ve seen this guy to be and that we don’t need this type of judge in our community.”
“But the fact that Doug Evans went after Curtis Flowers the number of times that he did, the fact that the Supreme Court found that what he did was racist is enough for me to know that this is not the type of judge that we need in our community,” he added.
“And unless and until he shows me something different, I’m not going to believe that he’s going to be anything different. So I’m vehemently opposed to him holding any judicial position.”