The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Rebuked for racial bias after trying a man six times, this Mississippi DA ran unopposed and will win

(J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

The United States is in the midst of a spate of high-profile district attorney elections, witnessing a wave of liberal prosecutors promising decarceration, transparency and reform. Yet Doug Evans, the white Mississippi prosecutor known for his questionable handling of the case of Curtis Flowers, a black man tried for murder six times, will automatically win reelection Tuesday.

The Evans reelection seems an outlier when viewed against other counties across the country. But in Mississippi’s 5th District, where Evans has served as district attorney since 1991, it’s not a rarity. As with most of the state’s 22 elected prosecutor positions, Evans ran unopposed.

The controversial prosecutor gained national attention last year when the American Public Media podcast “In the Dark” analyzed his fixation on prosecuting Flowers for a quadruple slaying from 1996. Evans has spent more than two decades trying Flowers six times. Two of the trials ended in hung juries, and four resulted in convictions later overturned on appeal.

The Supreme Court on June 21 reversed the murder conviction of Curtis Flowers, who was sentenced to death for the 1996 murders of four people in Winona, Miss. (Video: Reuters)

In each case, Evans was chastised by a higher court for prosecutorial misconduct and keeping black people from being seated on Flowers’s jury before repeating the pattern of discriminatory behavior again. In all, Evans used his allotted challenges to strike 41 of 42 black prospective jurors.

The sixth trial’s appeal reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in June that Evans violated Flowers’s constitutional rights. The majority decision, written by Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, overturned the conviction and dismissed Flowers’s death sentence.

“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,” Kavanaugh wrote.

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District attorney elections are commonly held in presidential or congressional election years, though some states schedule them off-cycle. In addition to a few scattered counties voting for district attorneys this month, four states — Pennsylvania, New York, Virginia and Mississippi — had many if not all of their prosecutor positions on the ballot Tuesday.

Already, the races have been revelatory. During August’s Democratic primary elections, liberal challengers in Virginia ousted two longtime incumbents, and Tiffany Cabán, a Latina public defender from Queens, came up only several dozen votes short of beating the borough’s favored candidate.

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Mississippi is the nation’s third-most-incarcerated state and disenfranchises more of its residents than any other. In recent years, most states have automatically restored voting rights to felons who serve their prison sentences. Mississippi, however, imposes a lifetime ban on voting for any person convicted of several delineated crimes.

Race and the death penalty: Supreme Court to hear case of Curtis Flowers, tried six times for quadruple murder

In 17 of Mississippi’s districts, the candidates were guaranteed four-year terms because no one ran against them. Tuesday’s was the fourth consecutive race in which Evans was unopposed. His automatic reelection positions him to decide whether Flowers will face a seventh trial. Attorneys for Flowers declined to comment, and Evans did not return The Washington Post’s request for one.

Of the 22 contests, only five were competitive.

Two candidates, Shameca Collins and Jody Owens, of the 6th and 7th districts, won heated Democratic primaries in August, advocating for alternatives to incarceration. (Neither Collins nor Owens was opposed in Tuesday’s general election.)

The Supreme Court tossed Curtis Flowers’s death-row conviction, ruling it was racially biased

Three other districts — the 10th, 12th and 14th — held contested general elections Tuesday.

“It’s difficult to unseat a 16-year incumbent,” said Joey Norton, a Republican challenger facing the 14th District’s Democratic incumbent, Dee Bates.

His campaign focus has been criminal justice restructuring, upending disparate treatment of individuals from low-income communities and sentencing laws that coerce pleas.

“There are just so many discrepancies and disparities [in the system],” Norton said. “If you can get into a position to help change that, you should go in and make sure everyone is treated fairly and equally.”

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