The U.S. Supreme Court is currently considering the case of Curtis Flowers, a death row inmate from Mississippi. He's been tried for murder six different times by the same district attorney — a district attorney whose behavior and power have called into question the limits of his position, or lack thereof.
Flowers is accused of murdering four people in a Winona, Mississippi, furniture store in 1996. During the more than 20 years of legal back-and-forth since then, he's been an inmate at the Mississippi State Penitentiary.
But recently, his case has gotten new nationwide attention due at least in part to a true-crime-style podcast called "In the Dark."
Madeleine Baran is an award-winning journalist who lived in Winona, Mississippi, for more than a year while piecing together Flowers' case. Her meticulous recounting of the incident and the subsequent prosecution has raised suspicions around the way it was handled.
"It's good to see the story get this much attention. Because the reason we did this story it was we thought it mattered," Baran said.
But her big takeaway from all this is about the power of prosecutors. Despite DA Doug Evans’ repeated misconduct and discriminatory behavior, he's continued to prosecute Flowers.
Baran said, "This really is a story about the power of prosecutors in this country. The prosecutor, in this case District Attorney Doug Evans, has tremendous power. And we give prosecutors discretion. And there's good reasons to do that. But I think what our reporting on the Curtis Flowers case shows is what can happen when there's no check on that power."
Three of Flowers' convictions have been overturned by the Mississippi Supreme Court — two for prosecutorial misconduct on Evans' part and one for discriminatory jury selection. The state's highest court ruled Evans was intentionally dismissing black jurors for no reason other than that they were black. Baran's own research found Evans had a history of this during his time as a prosecutor.
And Baran isn't the only one struck by District Attorney Doug Evans' influence on this case. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito and others commented on how "disturbing" Evans' behavior was.
Despite three separate convictions being thrown out because of Evans and his office's behavior, there's no one to fire him or even remove him from this case.
"Here you have a prosecutor who's been repeatedly found to have engaged in misconduct. And the way that the system is set up is there's really no sanction for him, no punishment, nothing really happens to Doug Evans. … He's an elected district attorney, so he has no boss, his boss really are the voters … and he gets re-elected every time," Baran said.
Based on the questioning from the Supreme Court, Baran and many others believe the justices will rule against Evans. But even if that happens, it doesn't really change things for Curtis Flowers.
"Doug Evans has been very clear. When I talked to him about this case, he told me, 'Look, Curtis Flowers is guilty, I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that he's guilty.' … Let's say the court overturns, which does seem more likely based on what we saw today. Well, that would mean that Curtis goes back to where he's been many times before. He's had his conviction reversed before, never by the U.S. Supreme Court like this, but he's certainly had it overturned before. So then it would be up to Doug Evans. … The man who's tried this case six times. It will be his decision as to whether or not to bring Curtis to trial for a seventh time."