- A Mississippi man named Curtis Flowers was granted bond by a judge on Monday after spending almost 23 years in jail.
- Flowers was tried six times for the same 1996 murders.
- His most recent trial in 2010 resulted in a death sentence, but the U.S. Supreme Court overturned his murder conviction in June because of evidence that showed the prosecutor struck down more than four times as many potential black jurors as white ones.
- Flowers must wear an electronic monitor while he waits to hear whether or not his charges will be dropped.
Curtis Flowers, a Mississippi man who has been tried six times for the same murders, was granted bond by a judge on Monday that allows him to await the next step of his case at home with his family instead of in custody.
“He’s extremely happy to be out,” Flowers attorney Rob McDuff told The Washington Post. “I think he had a sense that this was going to work out this time around.”
The decision came as a huge victory for Flowers, who has spent almost 23 years behind bars after being indicted with the killing of four furniture store employees in 1996. His case has gained national attention as four of his convictions have been overturned due to concern over racially-charged unconstitutional prosecution.
“This has been a long and costly process, and there is no need to continue wasting taxpayer money on this misguided prosecution that has been plagued by misconduct and racial discrimination,” McDuff added.
Prosecutor Questioned for Racist Decisions
Doug Evans, who has been the prosecutor in all six trials, has been questioned after reporters from American Public Media thoroughly examined evidence in the case suggesting underlying racist influence.
In a trial process, prosecutors and defense attorneys can use “peremptory strikes” to remove people from the jury with no explanation. The APM reporters found that from 1992-2017, Evans’s office struck 50% of the eligible black jurors and only 11% of white jurors.
The two trials of Flowers that resulted in hung juries were also the only two trials that had more than one black person assessing his guilt.
Flowers’ most recent trial was in 2010 and resulted in a death sentence. His attorneys argued that Evans’s process of gauging potential jurors was skewed with racism. In the 2010 trial, Evans asked 145 questions of the black potential jurors he rejected, while he made a total of 12 inquiries to the 11 white jurors he seated.
In June of this year, the U.S. Supreme Court examined the constitutional validity of the 2010 death sentence ruling —primarily, if Evans’s jury decisions were or were not racially discriminating. The high court determined that they were and reversed Flowers’ murder conviction.
Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote that the effort to strike down black jury members “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.”
“Equal justice under law requires a criminal trial free of racial discrimination in the jury selection process,” Kavanaugh wrote.
After the most recent murder conviction was overturned, Evans stood by his belief that Flowers committed the crime.
“There’s no question about [Flowers’] guilt,” he told American Public Media. “There never has been.”
When discussing the Supreme Court’s ruling that he tried to exclude black jurors from the trials, Evan flatly denied the claim.
“If they said that, that is not true,” he said.
Last month, the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund filed a lawsuit against Evans accusing him of racial discrimination.
Next Steps for Flowers
Although Flowers is granted permission to go home for now, he is not yet entirely free. His legal team filed a motion in September to drop the charges, but they are still waiting for that ruling.
McDuff says he expects the judge to hold a hearing regarding dropping the case early next year. Flowers will have to wear an electronic monitor while his case continues.
See what others are saying: (NPR) (USA Today) (The Washington Post)
Evelyn Yang, Andrew Yang’s Wife, Says Gynecologist Sexually Assaulted Her
- Evelyn Yang, the wife of presidential candidate Andrew Yang, went public with her sexual assault allegations against a New York gynecologist.
- Yang said Robert Hadden, who practiced through Columbia University, sexually abused her during a medical appointment when she was pregnant in 2012.
- After Yang and several other women’s allegations brought charges against Hadden, he pleaded guilty to two counts in 2016 and lost his medical license, but did not go to prison.
- Hadden and Columbia University are facing a lawsuit for abuse allegations and coverups, respectively, filed by at least two dozen women.
- Hadden has denied all allegations except the two counts he pleaded guilty to several years ago.
Evelyn Yang’s Story
Evelyn Yang, the spouse of 2020 presidential hopeful Andrew Yang, said she was sexually assaulted by a gynecologist who is also facing abuse allegations from more than two dozen other former patients.
In a CNN interview released Thursday, Yang publicly spoke for the first time about her alleged assault by Robert Hadden, a former medical professional with Columbia University.
Yang said she started seeing Hadden in 2012, when she was pregnant with her first child, and described the visits as routine at first. But she said eventually the gynecologist’s behavior grew more and more inappropriate.
The mother claimed the worst case of assault was when she was seven months pregnant.
“I was in the exam room and I was dressed and ready to go,” she told CNN. “And then, at the last minute, he kind of made up an excuse. He said something about ‘I think you might need a C-section’ and he proceeded to grab me over to him and undress me and examine me internally, ungloved.”
Yang revealed that she didn’t tell anyone about what happened for awhile — not even her husband — even though she knew what the doctor did was wrong. It wasn’t until months later, after she found out that another woman had reported a sexual assault by Hadden, that she told her spouse.
Legal Battles Against Robert Hadden
After telling her husband about what happened to her in the gynecologist’s office, Yang hired a lawyer and discovered that the Manhattan District Attorney had an open case against the doctor as several other women came forward with similar stories.
In early 2016, after agreeing to a plea deal that saw him admitting to two out of nine charges against him, Hadden was convicted of sex crimes. However, the charges Yang accused him of weren’t among them. In that deal, Hadden had to surrender his medical license and register as the lowest level sex offender, but he did not have to spend any time behind bars.
Yang was disappointed by the verdict and thought the punishment was not large enough for the crime.
“They said that the punishment was the same, regardless of how many counts he plead guilty to, that the punishment would’ve been the same, so it didn’t matter,” Yang said. “And I thought, well, it matters to me.”
“The DA’s office is meant to protect us, is meant to serve justice,” she added. “And there was no justice here.”
Now, there are at least 30 women that now accuse Hadden of sexual assault. The majority of them, Yang included, are part of a civil suit against Columbia University, its affiliates, and Hadden.
The lawsuit claims that the university “concealed Robert Hadden’s abuse for decades” and continued to allow his access to patients.
Hadden has denied all allegations against him, save for the two counts he pleaded guilty to prior to his 2016 conviction.
Justification for Going Public Now
Yang chose to bring her story into the public eye now because she felt empowered by the people she met as she accompanied her husband along his campaign trail.
“Meeting people and seeing the difference that we’ve been making already has moved me to share my own story about it, about sexual assault,” Yang said.
After the CNN interview came out, Andrew Yang posted support for his wife on his Twitter page.
“I’m so proud of Evelyn for sharing her story on behalf of so many women who have had similar experiences, most of whom will never have the same opportunity,” he wrote. “She is the source of strength for our family and she demonstrates it every day.”
I’m so proud of Evelyn for sharing her story on behalf of so many women who have had similar experiences, most of whom will never have the same opportunity. She is the source of strength for our family and she demonstrates it every day.— Andrew Yang🧢 (@AndrewYang) January 17, 2020
In her interview, Evelyn also expressed wanting to use her unique position to speak up about these issues.
“My experience with the sexual assault… is such a powerful and upsetting example of the truth that women are living with every day,” she said. “And I just happen to be able to have a platform to talk about it. I need to use that voice.”
See what others are saying: (Washington Post) (CNN) (BBC)
Virginia Governor Declares State of Emergency Prior to Pro-Gun Rally
- The governor of Virginia declared a state of emergency on Wednesday ahead of a pro-gun rights demonstration next week, banning firearms from the Capitol grounds of Richmond for several days.
- Gov. Ralph Northam warned of “credible threats” from outside groups that are planning to disrupt the assembly with violence.
- The demonstration, organized by the Virginia Citizens Defense League, is scheduled to take place Monday, Jan. 20 on the state’s Capitol grounds.
- Lobbyists plan to protest gun control bills that are being pushed by the state’s government, which Democrats have recently taken control of for the first time in a generation.
State of Emergency Declared
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam announced a temporary state of emergency on Wednesday in preparation for the pro-gun rights rally set to take place in the capital early next week.
“We have received credible intelligence from our law enforcement agencies that there are groups with malicious plans for the rally that is planned for Monday,” Northam said at a press conference. “This includes out-of-state militia groups and hate groups planning to travel from across the country to disrupt our democratic process with acts of violence.”
“They are not coming to peacefully protest,” he added. “They are coming to intimidate and to cause harm.”
In preparation for this possibility, Northam released an executive order detailing the state of emergency that will be set in place from Friday evening until Tuesday evening. Throughout this stretch of time, firearms and other weapons will be prohibited from the Capitol grounds in Richmond.
Northam said that state intelligence analysts have identified rhetoric and threats similar to what was seen prior to the 2017 deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia that left one person dead directly from the violence and dozens more injured.
“No one wants another incident like the one we saw in Charlottesville in 2017,” Northam said. “We will not allow that mayhem and violence to happen here.”
The rally that Northam is preparing for is being organized by the Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL) and will take place on Monday, Jan. 20 — Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Northam asked the organizers of Monday’s event to “disavow” any groups who threaten violence, according to NPR.
On their frequently-asked-questions page, the VCDL writes that their annual Lobby Day is intended to be a “peaceful event” and encourages attendees to disengage if faced with any kind of harassment.
The VCDL emphasizes the sole purpose of the demonstration is for gun rights supporters to protest gun control bills that are moving forward under a new slate of lawmakers.
Earlier this month, Democrats took over as the majority group in both houses of Virginia legislature, a dynamic that hasn’t been seen in over 25 years. Many of these lawmakers have pledged to support Gov. Northam’s proposed measures to regulate and restrict firearms.
Philip Van Cleave, the president of the pro-gun group, told CNN on Wednesday that he “doesn’t believe the governor has the right to ban weapons.”
Later on Monday, the Charlottesville Coalition for Gun Violence Prevention will also be assembling at the capital for their annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day vigil to honor victims of gun violence. A coordinator for the vigil was advised to push back the start time to avoid the big crowds from the pro-gun rally, according to a local news outlet.
Student Expelled From Christian School After Rainbow-Filled Photo
- A 15-year old girl was expelled from a private Christian school after her mother, Kimberly Alford, shared a photo of her wearing a rainbow-striped sweater next to a colorful cake.
- Alford said the color scheme was a coincidence with no LGBTQ meaning, but the school interpreted the post that way and said it contradicts its beliefs.
- The school later clarified that the teen was not expelled for the photo alone but also for repeated student conduct violations.
- While Alford admitted her daughter had made previous violations, she still argued that the repercussions for the photo were unjust.
A private Christian school in Louisville, Kentucky expelled a student last week after her mother posted a photo of the teenager wearing a rainbow shirt posing next to a colorful cake.
Fifteen-year-old Kayla Kenney celebrated her recent birthday with a small gathering out at a restaurant at the end of December. Her mom, Kimberly Alford, set up the event and posted a photo of Kenney to Facebook shortly after.
The image shows the girl grinning to the camera with a frosted rainbow birthday cake sitting before her. The cake’s decor matches the striped rainbow design on Kenney’s sweater.
On Jan. 6, Alford said she received an email from Bruce Jacobson, the head of Whitefield Academy where her daughter is a student. In it, Jacobson allegedly said that Kenney was being expelled over the post and attached the image in his message.
“The WA Administration has been made aware of a recent picture, posted on social media, which demonstrates a posture of morality and cultural acceptance contrary to that of Whitefield Academy’s beliefs,” Jacobson wrote, according to Alford.
“We made it clear that any further promotion, celebration or any other action and attitudes counter to Whitefield’s philosophy will not be tolerated.”
The school’s reaction to the birthday image baffled the family. Although a rainbow is widely recognized and used as a symbol of LGBTQ pride and support, Alford said the color scheme was just a coincidence with no deeper meaning for her daughter.
“Rainbows don’t mean you’re a certain gender or certain sex or sexuality,” Alford told The Washington Post. “I’m not saying she’s this or that — she’s just Kayla to me… I ordered the cake, she didn’t.”
In a later statement, Whitefield Academy clarified that this was not Kenney’s first breach of their protocol. The school condemned “inaccurate media reports” for making it seem like the expulsion was solely based on the cake photo and said that the teenager had “unfortunately violated our student code of conduct numerous times over the past two years.”
Alford acknowledged that her daughter had misstepped in the past, and cited instances of Kenney being found with e-cigarette paraphernalia and ditching class one day after lunch. She said that in October, after an e-cigarette incident, her daughter had been put on probation.
But the cake picture being the last straw made no sense to Alford or her daughter.
“She was really hurt. She was very upset because she thought, ‘All my friends are going back to school in the morning, and I don’t have anywhere to go,’” Alford told The Washington Post.
She added that her daughter told her, “‘Mom, I didn’t do anything wrong.’”
Whitefield Academy, which serves as a ministry of the Highview Baptist Church, disagreed. According to the school’s parent/student handbook, the Biblical role of the school is to work with families to “mold students to be Christ-like.”
“On occasion, the atmosphere or conduct within a particular home may be counter or in opposition to the Biblical lifestyle the school teaches,” the handbook states. “This includes, but is not limited to, sexual immorality, homosexual orientation, or the inability to support Biblical standards of right and wrong.”
The handbook notes that the school reserves the right to refuse admission or discontinue enrollment of any students who may go against its religious beliefs. According to a local Kentucky news outlet, The Courier-Journal, exemptions for faith-based schools in Louisville’s Fairness Ordinance grant Whitefield Academy the authority to do this.
Alford appealed her daughter’s expulsion but reported that she was denied. She said that administrators did agree to change the expulsion to a “voluntary withdrawal” as to not reflect poorly on Kenney’s record.
The mother said her daughter is now attending a public school and has received overwhelming support from friends at her former school, though she still thinks Kenney was treated “unjustly” and that is why she’s chosen to make the story known.
“I just want to defend her in a graceful way,” Alford told NBC. “I want to stand up for my child,” she said. “Just treat people with kindness and love, and don’t be judgmental.”