Things aren’t looking so good in Mississippi. Here’s a quick update.
It’s been really draining to be in the courtroom, to realize people are talking about killing a man who is sitting right there at the defense table; to know his parents are sitting next to me watching as people say they would consider killing their son. It would be hard enough if I thought Curtis had killed four people. I really believe he is innocent though, and I know he’s already spent 14 years in jail (where, by the way, he’s been a model prisoner–no disciplinary write-ups, a lot of respect from the guards, and a leader of church services).
The whole thing is making me physically sick. I keep waking up in the middle of the night thinking about what it would be like if a courtroom full of people were talking about killing my baby.
It’s also incredibly sad to know the victims’ families are right there too. They really believe we’re here to free the person who killed their family members. The husband of one victim angrily confronted Friends of Justice director Alan Bean in the courtroom yesterday, calling him a “sapsuck’n liar” and told him he “wasn’t going to get away with this.” Alan was angry but could sympathize with him too. These people really believe they are right.
Unfortunately they also have a lot of supporters who seem to be wheedling their way onto the jury.
There are so many details that show Curtis isn’t getting a fair trial, that potential black jury members are afraid to be on the jury (one already formally asked to be excused because he was afraid of being arrested if he misspoke, as happened to this black juror from Curtis’s last trial who held out for an acquittal) and that the judge is favoring the prosecution (he’s allowing close friends of the victims to be on the jury, including one who admitted to attending two of the previous trials).
Wait, I need to repeat that bit, the judge thought there was no cause to dismiss a juror who had actually WATCHED two of the previous trials.
There’s also the inherent craziness of our criminal system, where the only people who can be on the jury are people who say they would consider imposing the death penalty. In this case the jurors are interviewed individually for this part, so potential jurors have to be willing to look right at Curtis and his family and say that yes, they could consider killing him. Most of the black jurors interviewed yesterday couldn’t do it, while most of the white ones, including close family friends of the victims, said yes, and also noted they could be absolutely fair and impartial to Curtis.
It’s my understanding that Curtis decided not to change venues because local people might know him and because he could not control where in Mississippi the trial was moved (the judge, the one who tried him last time, would get to decide that).
Yesterday the defense tried to present evidence that black jury members were afraid to be on the jury. In describing a climate of racial intimidation, the defense attorney pointed out that her African-American intern was stopped while driving into town. The intern was told to keep her hands on the wheel and her eyes on the road. She was asked what she was doing in town and told not to make any trouble. There was no answer when she asked what law she had broken. The judge was visibly outraged by this story, saying it was preposterous and the intern was probably speeding or otherwise breaking the law. The intern told me it took everything she had to keep quiet while the judge called her a liar.
There are also a lot of ridiculous details about the case itself that make me crazy. For example, the state’s big piece of physical evidence is the gunpowder residue found on Curtis’s hand hours after the shooting. It makes you at least seriously question Curtis’s innocence, right? But Alan Bean explained the police had found only a single micron of residue on his hand, and that the FBI doesn’t use this kind of evidence any more because small amounts of residue can easily be picked up by doing things like say, touching handcuff or furniture at a police station or, even during the testing process itself.
The eyewitness testimony would also seem to reasonably place Curtis at the crime scene, or at least not preclude the possibility, until you learn there were no willing witnesses until the state posted a $30,000 reward and went knocking on doors to ask people to testify. Once you know that, you understand why the physical descriptions by eyewitnesses are contradictory. One said he was wearing long pants and a jacket. A JACKET . . . IN MISSISSIPPI . . . IN JULY. Another said it was shorts and a t-shirt).
I don’t know if the prosecutor and judge really believe Curtis is guilty, or if they both just want to satisfy the victims’ families that the murderer has been found.
I do believe what we’re doing here is helpful though. When I worked on a Friends of Justice case in Tulia, Texas ten years ago I really sort of thought all the time we spent getting media attention and the time Alan later spent reviving media interest was pretty futile, but then miraculously the media attention turned into pressure on the legal system which turned into, um, justice. It’s also what Alan did with Jena – took a story local people told him and made it into a national story and now the kids arrested in Jena are in college, not prison. So, I’m trying to be hopeful.
Thanks for everyone for the donations to Friends of Justice and the babysitting help and covering my cases at work. It means so much for me that I get to be here and try to help.