Flying the Pirate Flag: Ed Peters as Prosecutor

I’m going to post some things from the Mississippi Supreme Court about Ed Peters. It is strong stuff, and at times very offensive. It’s also very contentious– there are a lot of people (including lawyers, and worse, judges) who, viewing Ed Peters as an effective prosecutor, seemed really willing to turn a blind eye to the kind of thing I am talking about here. But I think it is an important part of the picture, and so here it is.

The point I am making here is that to a great degree, Peters was flying the pirate flag– he was playing to win, and didn’t really care what the rules were. He violated rules– against appeals to race, or commenting on the defendant’s failure to testify– that every lawyer knows. In these cases, it was easy for some to ignore because he was aggressively prosecuting “the bad guys.” But look back at what happened to Keith Shelton, and think about the recent triumph by the Mississippi and Louisiana Innocence Project in Cedric Willis’s case in which Peters and his assistant Bobby DeLaughter ignored exculpatory DNA evidence and proceeded to try an innocent man anyway.

So I want to talk about some of the tactics Peters used, because I think that this sort of thing is an important part of what’s wrong with him, and highlights problems with the system.

In the first case, Herring v. State, 522 So.2d 745 (Miss. 1988), Peters made remarks that the Mississippi Supreme Court called “utterly reprehensible.” Here they are (with emphasis added by the Mississippi Supreme Court):

And, so, the question comes down-just as I asked you on the opening day of this trial-can you put race aside? Can you white members vote for a fair verdict? Can you black members vote for a fair verdict? You and I know there are people in this county and this state and this city that would say-you are wasting your time. You can’t have a jury with eight black people that are gonna vote for life for a black person raping a white person. Time will tell.

No matter if you’ve got his fingerprints all over the house. No matter if she’s beaten. No matter if her vagina is bruised and torn. No matter if her room is torn up. No matter if her door is forced open. You just can’t get any black people who are gonna vote for life against a black defendant who does that to a white person, You are not-

At this point (finally) there is an objection from the defense lawyer. The court said: “We uniformly condemn and roundly denounce such scurrilous tactics. ”