Courthouse Confederate Flag at Center of Murder Appeal

A black man who complained about it was cut from the jury. Discrimination?

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The Wall Street Journal reports that the Louisiana Supreme Court is expected to hear a novel argument Monday that relates to the long-standing debate over the legacy of the Confederate flag. This time it's come up in the context of a murder trial.

Felton Dorsey, an African-American man, was sentenced to death in Shreveport, La., for killing Joe Prock, a white firefighter, during a robbery at the home of Prock's mother. Dorsey claims that he is innocent and seeks to overturn the conviction on numerous grounds, including that prosecutors used unreliable accomplice testimony.

But he also contends that prosecutors improperly removed most of the prospective black jurors from the case, resulting in a jury of 11 whites and one African American. Here's where the Confederate flag comes in: Carl Staples, one of the prospective black jurors, was struck from the case by prosecutors after complaining about the fact that it was flying outside the courtroom:

The flag "is a symbol of one of the most ... heinous crimes ever committed," Mr. Staples said, according to court briefs. "You're here for justice and then again you overlook this great injustice by continuing to fly this flag," he added, calling the flag "salt in the wounds of ...people of color."

"When I was screened for the jury, it welled up inside of me and I expressed my feelings," Mr. Staples said in an interview. A part-time radio engineer and announcer in Shreveport, he said, "I don't understand how judges or lawyers allowed that flag to stand."

The American Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP's Shreveport Chapter, and a group of university professors filed a court brief supporting Mr. Dorsey's claim ...

In an appellate brief, the District Attorney's Office denied that prosecutors discriminated against blacks in assembling the jury. The brief does not address the Confederate flag.

Charles McMichael, a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a Tennessee-based group that seeks to preserve the legacy of Confederate veterans, called it "idiotic" for Mr. Dorsey to try use the flag to overturn his conviction.

Perhaps it would have been a stretch to use the flag’s very presence to overturn the conviction, but no one is trying to do that. Instead, Dorsey's lawyers' angle seems to be that a jury-selection process in which expressing discomfort with the flag is a basis for being excluded supports their claim that there was discrimination by prosecutors against African Americans. It's well established that such unfair jury selection can affect the outcome of a case and provide the basis for overturning a conviction -- and there’s nothing "idiotic" about taking that seriously.

Read more at the Wall Street Journal.

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