Curtis Flowers: US man freed months after court ruled racial bias | USA News


A Mississippi man whose murder conviction was overturned by the US Supreme Court for racial bias was released from custody Monday for the first time in 22 years.

Curtis Flowers walked out of the regional jail in the central town of Louisville hours after a judge set his bond at $250,000. A person who wanted to remain anonymous posted $25,000, the 10 percent needed to secure Flowers’s release, said his lawyer Rob McDuff.

“It’s been rough,” Flowers said. “Taking it one day at a time, keeping God first – that’s how I got through it.”

When asked another question, Flowers sighed, smiled and tossed his hands in the air.

“I’m so excited right now, I can’t even think straight,” he said with a laugh.

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At the bond hearing earlier Monday in the city of Winona, Circuit Judge Joseph Loper ordered Flowers to wear an electronic monitor while waiting for the district attorney’s office to decide whether to try him a seventh time or drop the charges. Flowers also must check in once a week with a court clerk, McDuff said. He said lawyers would file papers asking the judge to dismiss the charges.

Flowers was accompanied from the jail on Monday by his lawyers and two sisters, Priscilla Ward and Charita Baskin. The siblings said they were going home to fry some fish for dinner and hang out together.

Six trials

Flowers was convicted four times in connection with a quadruple slaying in the city of Winona in 1996: twice for individual slayings and twice for all four killings. Two other trials involving all four deaths ended in mistrials. Each of the convictions was overturned, but Flowers has remained in jail because the original murder indictment is still active.

Circuit Judge Joseph Loper said it was “troubling” that prosecutors had not responded to a defence motion to drop the charges against Flowers. He said if prosecutors do not respond, “the state will reap the whirlwind” from him.

Assistant District Attorney William Hopper left the courtroom without speaking to news reporters. Earlier, he declined to comment when asked if the district attorney’s office would try Flowers a seventh time.

Curtis Flowers 2

Curtis Flowers, centre, standing with his attorneys, Henderson Hill, left, and Rob McDuff, at a bail hearing in Winona, Mississippi, US [Rogelio V. Solis/AP Photo] 

Supporters who were among the more than 150 people packing the wooden pews of the 1970s-era courtroom hugged Flowers after the judge announced his decision. His father, Archie Lee Flowers, choked back tears. He said the first thing he would do when his son was released, was pray.

The elder Flowers said he frequently visited his son in prison, where they sang and prayed together. He said he has always believed in his son’s innocence.

‘Unprecendented’

During his sixth trial in 2010, Flowers was sentenced to death. The US Supreme Court overturned that conviction in June, finding that the lead prosecutor, Doug Evans, had shown an unconstitutional pattern of excluding African American jurors in the trials of Flowers, who is black.

After the Supreme Court ruling, Flowers was moved off death row at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman and taken to a regional jail in the central Mississippi town of Louisville.

“This case is unprecedented in the history of the American legal system,” McDuff told the judge during Monday’s hearing. He said Flowers had more than 22 years in prison “without a lawful conviction to justify his incarceration” and had an “exemplary” record of good behaviour in prison.

Hopper had asked the judge to deny bond. He cited several examples of evidence that he said pointed to Flowers’s guilt.

Four people were shot to death on July 16, 1996, in the Tardy Furniture store in the north Mississippi city of Winona. They were owner Bertha Tardy, 59, and three employees: 45-year-old Carmen Rigby, 42-year-old Robert Golden and 16-year-old Derrick “Bobo” Stewart.

Curtis Flowers relatives

Curtis Flowers’ daughter, Crystal Ghoston, left, and a relative hugging in court after a Mississippi circuit judge ordered bail for Curtis [Rogelio V. Solis/AP Photo] 

A daughter of Tardy was in court Monday. She sat across the aisle and one row back from Flowers’s daughter, Crystal Ghoston, who sat in the front row.

Ghoston, 26, told The Associated Press that she had seen her father only once since he was imprisoned: about 10 years ago, and even then she could only talk to him through a reinforced window. She said they wrote letters to each other and spoke on the phone every few weeks, and that he talked about meeting her two-year-old daughter, who calls him “Paw-Paw”.

“We’re so much alike,” Ghoston said. “We laugh all the time on the phone.”

Winona sits near the crossroads of Interstate 55, the major north-south artery in Mississippi, and US Highway 82, which runs east to west. It about a half-hour’s drive from the flatlands of the Mississippi Delta. Among its 4,300 residents, about 48 percent are black and 44 percent are white. Census Bureau figures show that about 30 percent of the population lives in poverty.

In mid-November, four black voters and a branch of the NAACP filed a federal lawsuit asking a judge to permanently order Evans and his assistants to stop using peremptory challenges to remove African American residents as potential jurors because of their race.

The lawsuit cites an analysis of jury strikes by Evans from 1992 to 2017 by American Public Media’s “In the Dark” podcast. It found Evans’s office used peremptory strikes, which lawyers typically do not have to explain, to remove 50 percent of eligible black jurors, but only 11 percent of eligible white jurors. The analysis was performed as part of a series of episodes questioning Flowers’s conviction in his sixth trial.





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Supreme Court Indicates Gun Case May Be Moot : NPR


A view of the Supreme Court in Washington, Monday, Nov. 11, 2019. Protections for 660,000 immigrants are on the line at the Supreme Court. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
A view of the Supreme Court in Washington, Monday, Nov. 11, 2019. Protections for 660,000 immigrants are on the line at the Supreme Court. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

For the first time in 10 years, the U.S. Supreme Court has heard a major gun-rights case. But the drum roll of anticipation seemed to fade, as the debate in the high court Monday focused almost exclusively on whether the case should be dismissed as moot.

At issue was a New York law that allowed New York City residents to have a permit for a gun at home, but barred them from transporting the gun elsewhere except to seven New York City shooting ranges. Three handgun owners who had such “premises licenses” challenged the law as a violation of their Second Amendment right to bear arms because they could not transport their guns to shooting ranges and competitions outside the city or to second homes.

“So what’s left of this case?”

The problem for those gun owners was that New York state and New York City abandoned the challenged law earlier this year after the Supreme Court said it would review it.

“New York City and New York state actually gave them everything that they had asked for before this argument,” said New York City corporation counsel James Johnson after the argument. “That was made very plain in this argument today.”

Indeed, it was, and the court’s liberals drove home the point.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg pointedly asked: “So what’s left of this case?”

Justice Sonia Sotomayor piled on. You’re asking [the court] to decide a case “in which the other side has thrown in the towel and completely given you every single thing you demanded in your complaint.”

Can you transport a gun and stop for coffee?

But lawyer Paul Clement, representing the gun owners, fought back. He argued that the new regulations for New York City still only permit “continuous and uninterrupted” gun transport within the city. That, he suggested, might put in doubt a stop for coffee or a bathroom break.

Justice Stephen Breyer didn’t take that argument seriously, saying he doubted any police officer would arrest someone for stopping for coffee.

Representing the Trump Administration, Deputy Solicitor General Jeffrey Wall tried to argue that the case is still alive because the plaintiffs could be awarded damages.

Justice Ginsburg came to bat again, pointing out that the gun owners never asked for damages. Has “the Solicitor General ever asked this court to allow such a late interjection of a damages” claim in order to save a case from being thrown out as moot? she asked.

Wall conceded he knew of no such case.

That is the “democratic process”

Next up to the lectern was Richard Dearing, who serves as Deputy Counsel for the City of New York. He emphasized that this lawsuit challenged a premises license, not a carry license. A premises license, he noted, is granted for the home only, though it must allow certain limited transport of the licensed handgun.

Dearing said the plaintiffs asked only for specified additional transport of these guns, and the city in the end gave the handgun owners everything they had asked for.

That the city changed its laws, he suggested, “is a good thing, not a bad one. The government should respond to litigation, should assess its laws … when they are challenged.” That, he said, is the “democratic process.”

“So then why is this case moot?”

But suppose that, in addition to stopping for a cup of coffee, the gun owner stops to visit his mother for a couple of hours, posited Justice Samuel Alito. “Would there be any law that would violated?”

Dearing replied that those kinds of questions were never at issue when the old law was challenged.

“So then why is this case moot?” wondered Alito. “Because [the plaintiffs] didn’t get all that they wanted,” he insisted. “They wanted a declaration that the old law was unconstitutional, period.”

Dearing replied that the plaintiffs framed the case they brought; they asked for a court order that allowed them to transport handguns to shooting ranges outside the city and to homes outside the city. And they got what they asked for.

With Justices Alito and Neil Gorsuch overtly seeking to blunt the city’s mootness argument, at the end of the day the question was where the rest of the court stood.

Justice Clarence Thomas, a forceful advocate for gun rights, asked no questions, as usual.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh has a far more gun-friendly record than the justice he replaced last year, Justice Anthony Kennedy. But Kavanaugh too asked no questions.

New York City is committed to “closing the book” on its old law

Chief Justice John Roberts asked just a few questions, and only of the City of New York’s lawyer. He wanted to know if the city could deny a premises gun license to the plaintiffs in this case because they had admitted previously violating the law.

“Is the city committed to closing the book on that old rule,” asked Roberts?

Yes, replied lawyer Dearing, noting that the plaintiffs have already had their licenses renewed twice since challenging the old New York law.

Only once on Monday did any justice directly address the question posed by the original New York case: whether the city’s justification for its regulations were constitutional. “Are the people of New York City and state less safe now” under the new law than they were under the previous law that was challenged, asked Justice Alito?

“No, I don’t think so,” replied lawyer Dearing. “We made a judgment, expressed by our police commissioner, that it was consistent with public safety to repeal the prior rule.”

Alito pounced. “So you think the Second Amendment permits the imposition of a restriction that has no public safety benefit?

Dearing replied that the new regulations–allowing for more transport of premises licensed guns–will make enforcement more difficult. But he said it is still doable.

That hardly appeased Alito, but organizations advocating stricter guns laws were breathing easier. Their relief may be only temporary.

With Kavanaugh replacing the more moderate Kennedy, there now seems to be a conservative majority on the court, justices who will in future treat gun regulations with far more suspicion than in the past. And even if that day does not come this term, there are more test cases waiting in the wings.



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Holey Artisan cafe attack: Dhaka court sentences seven to death | News


Dhaka, Bangladesh – An anti-terrorism court in Dhaka has sentenced seven people to death in connection with a 2016 deadly siege of a popular cafe in the Bangladeshi capital.

One person was acquited by the court on Wednesday, which delivered its verdict amid tight security.

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Twenty-two people were killed after gunmen stormed the upmarket Holey Artisan Bakery in Dhaka’s Gulshan area on July 1, 2016, in an attack that drew global condemnation. The victims included 17 foreigners.

Golam Sharuar Khan Zakir, the Public Prosecutor, welcomed the verdict. “We sought death penalty for them as they were intricately involved with the terrorist attack even though they didn’t physically took part in it.”

Judge Md Majibur Rahman of the Anti-Terrorism Special Tribunal of Dhaka ordered deaths by hanging.

The seven convicts who face gallows are: Hadisur Rahman, Rakibul Hasan Regan, Aslam Hossain Rash, Md Abdus Sabur Khan, Shariful Islam Khaled, Mamunur Rashid Ripon and Jahangir Hossain.

In July last year, the Counter-Terrorism and Transnational Crime unit of Dhaka Metropolitan Police submitted a charge sheet against eight suspects from the banned armed group Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh.

‘Zero tolerance against terrorism’

Hundreds of security forces, including paramilitary Rapid Action Battalion, were deployed on Wednesday in and around the court premises in Dhaka.

Security analyst Major General (Retd) Abdur Rashid termed the verdict “a milestone”.

“With this verdict, Bangladesh, as a country legally establishes its zero tolerance stance against militancy and terrorism,” he told Al Jazeera.

A group of gunmen burst into the cafe, which was popular with foreigners, young people, and middle class Bangladeshis, and took hostages.

Security forces stormed the cafe to break the 12-hour siege during which the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which claimed the attack, posted photos of what it said, were dead foreigners.

Bangladesh security forces have since killed dozens of suspected fighters many of them belonging to the JMB.

In this July 3, 2016 file photo, Bangladeshi policemen walk past the Holey Artisan Bakery in Dhaka's Gulshan area, Bangladesh, one day after heavily armed militants held dozens of people hostage at th

Twenty-two people were killed after gunmen stormed the upmarket Holey Artisan Bakery in Dhaka’s Gulshan area on July 1, 2016. The cafe reopened a year after the attack. [File/AP Photo]





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Opposition leader and elite’s ‘worst nightmare’ faces Thai court | Thailand News


Bangkok, Thailand – Thailand’s Constitutional Court will decide on Wednesday whether Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, the charismatic leader of the Future Forward Party (FFP), broke election rules by owning shares in a company while he campaigned in March’s controversial election. 

The election commission alleged in May that Thanathorn violated election laws by holding 675,000 shares in V-Luck Media Company, and immediately sought his disqualification.

Thanathorn has denied the charges and said he gave away his media shares before the campaign.

A panel of judges will announce their decision at 2pm (07:00 GMT) in Bangkok.

If he is found guilty, the 40-year-old could not only be disqualified as an MP, but also be banned from politics, and imprisoned for as long as 10 years. 

Ever since surging from virtually nowhere to third place in the elections, Future Forward has been under pressure from the government of former general-turned-civilian Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha. Now after months of grappling with the establishment, Thanathorn at risk of disqualification and other members of the party also facing charges, some fear it could be the end for the young but powerful opposition party.

“Although I do not want it to happen, I believe it will be the beginning of the end for Future Forward,” said “O”, 25, a Future Forward voter and political science student at Bangkok’s Thammasat University who declined to give his full name. 

“It is unlikely that [Future Forward Party] would survive the upcoming constitutional court’s charges,” he said.

‘Logical choice’

Whatever happens, the party has said it will push on and Thanathorn insisted earlier this month the party  said it would survive even if the court banned him from parliament.

He has already fought sedition charges and tackled legal complaints claiming he broke computer-crime laws.

To most Future Forward followers, Thanathorn represents the promise of democracy and an opportunity to move beyond the political instability that has haunted Thailand for decades. Its commitment to removing the military from politics has also found appeal in a country prone to coups. 

“He’s the only logical choice for younger progressives who crave for a real change in Thai politics, period,” said Game, 25, an active member of FFP who preferred not to share his full name. 

Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit

Thanathorn greets supporters as he arrived to face the first hearing over disputed media shares at the Constitutional Court in Bangkok in October. [Lillian Suwarnarumpha/AFP]

“As far (back) as I could remember, most politicians would rather ingratiate with the army generals than criticise them,” he said. Thanathorn’s willingness to take on the government face-to-face was what eventually won over his vote, Game added.

As the popularity of Thanathorn and FFP grew In the months leading up to the March election, government representatives took up a cybercrime case against Thanathorn for allegedly criticising the establishment in a Facebook Live video. 

Last month those charges were finally dropped.

But authorities also decided in early April that he had contravened laws on sedition, unlawful assembly and assisting people who have committed a serious crime. The charges date back to 2015 when a pro-democracy group demonstrated against the military government and it is unclear when a decision will be made.

Thanathorn has said repeatedly that the charges are politically motivated.

‘Establishment’s worst nightmare’

Political analysts are not surprised by what has happened after the party energised Thais by winning 6.2 million votes and 80 seats in parliament.

James Buchanan, a PhD candidate at the City University of Hong Kong and researcher on Thai history and politics, said even if Thanathorn, a wealthy businessman, were disqualified he could still pose a threat to the establishment. 

“The goal is to remove Thanathorn from politics,” Buchanan said, adding that he doubted Thanathorn would be jailed. “Once this is achieved, there would be little incentive to push further by imprisoning him and risk a backlash from his supporters. Thanathorn is the establishment’s worst nightmare.” 

Thailand Thanathorn

Thanathorn’s supporters show three-finger salutes as they turned out to support him in at a police station in April. The charismatic politician faces a slew of charges after his party surprised the establishment with a strong showing in the March election. [File: Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters]

Buchanan also noted that Future Forward could pose an even greater threat to the conservative-royalist establishment than Thaksin Shinawatra, the telecommunications and tycoon and former prime minister who now lives in exile. FFP’s supporters are mostly young and progressive, and one of the party’s goals is to end military influence.

It is a view shared by Charnvit Kasetsiri, one of Thailand’s most renowned historians. He told Al Jazeera there was a “fifty-fifty” percent chance that Thanathorn would be disqualified as an MP, but that prison remained a possibility.

“The establishment has to think seriously about whether they would be successful like in the case of Thaksin,” Charnvit said.

“If they come to the conclusion that they can get away with it, they would do it. But if not, meaning it might lead to something like in the October 1973 or the Bloody May 1992, they probably would not do it. I hope the establishment is wise enough, but you never know.” 

The 1973 student uprising triggered ferocious battles on the streets of Bangkok that left scores dead but removed the military dictatorship of anti-communist Thanom Kittikachorn, and led to a civilian government.

In the 1992 “Bloody May” protests, meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of anti-government protesters took to the streets to fight against General Suchinda Kraprayoon’s military government. A crackdown followed resulting in dozens of deaths and hundreds of injuries.

Charnvit said the establishment was more afraid than ever of Thailand’s younger generation and the effect they could have on the future of the country.

“My guess is that more trouble will come, another coup, or even a new popular uprising,” Charnvit said.

Whatever the Constitutional Court rules on Wednesday, neither Future Forward nor Thanathorn plans to give up the fight.

“The generals still rule. The struggle continues,” Thanathorn wrote on Twitter last week.“Democratization, demilitarization and decentralization is our call.” 





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