Curtis Flowers

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Current photo of building where Tardy Furniture was located.

Curtis Giovanni Flowers is an African-American man who has been tried six times in the state of Mississippi, United States, for murder in the July 16, 1996, shooting deaths of four people inside Tardy Furniture store in downtown Winona. In five of the trials, the prosecutor, Doug Evans, sought the death penalty. He is currently on death row at the Parchman division of Mississippi State Penitentiary.[1]

Flowers was convicted of murder of the store owner at the first trial. The verdict was overturned due to prosecutorial misconduct that violated the defendant's rights. Two trials resulted in convictions; each verdict was later overturned by the Mississippi Supreme Court, one for prosecutorial misconduct and one for racial bias by prosecutor in jury selection. Two trials ended as mistrials. On June 18, 2010, the majority-white jury in the sixth trial convicted Flowers of the 1996 murders of an ex-employer and three workers; they voted to impose the death sentence.[2]

Flowers' case was one of three that the US Supreme Court ruled in June 2016 were to be remanded to lower courts to be reviewed for evidence of racial bias in jury selection.[3]

Case[edit]

On the morning of July 16, 1996, a retired employee of Tardy Furniture entered the store and found four bodies: the owner and three workers at the store; all of which had been shot. Curtis Flowers was suspected after police learned that he had been fired from the store 13 days prior to the murders.[4] He also owed Bertha Tardy $30 for a cash advance on his paycheck. Certain eyewitnesses said they saw Flowers near the front of the store on the morning of the shootings. No gun was ever found, but bullets from the scene were determined to be the same caliber as a gun that had been stolen from a car. No direct evidence tied Flowers to the gun or the gun to the crime.[5] Flowers was nevertheless charged with murder in the shooting death of the four victims.

1997 trial[edit]

The prosecutor decided to try Flowers in one trial for the death of the store owner, as occurring in the course of a robbery. Evidence submitted for the prosecution, which was asking for the death penalty, stated that bloody footprints found at the crime scene were a 10½, the size worn by Flowers. They were identified as Fila's Grant Hill style, which witnesses said Flowers had been wearing that morning.[6]

In addition, projectiles found at the crime scene were most likely from a .380 caliber weapon, matching a gun stolen from Flowers' uncle on the morning of the murders. Forensic evidence also showed that there were gunshot particles on Flowers' thumb. $287 was found to be missing from the till, and $255 was found at the home of Flowers' girlfriend. According to two of Flowers' cellmates in jail, he admitted to them that he had stolen the money and committed the murders. Flowers denied this.[7] Two of the witnesses later retracted their testimony.[8]

Flowers denied the murders. He said he never admitted any crimes to his cellmates. He said he was wearing Nike shoes, the clothes he was wearing that day did not match the description given by witnesses, and said he had been handling fireworks the day before the murders to explain the particulate matter found on his hands. He was convicted of the murder of the store owner and sentenced to death in Montgomery County in 1997.

Trials[edit]

First Trial[edit]

The conviction verdict in the first trial was overturned by the Mississippi Supreme Court. It held that evidence presented by the state was prejudicial because it went beyond that necessary to prove the murder of Tardy alone. In addition, the prosecutor was held to have asked questions "not in good faith" and "without basis in fact."

Both reasons were sufficient to overturn the verdict, with Flowers remanded for re-trial. The court stated that "what may be harmless error in a case with less at stake becomes irreversible error when the penalty is death." They said Flowers' Sixth and Fourteenth amendment rights had been violated by "the prosecutor repeatedly mentioning the other killings".

Second Trial[edit]

The court granted a change of venue for the second trial, which was for the murder of employee Derrick Stewart at the Tardy store. The trial was moved to Harrison County due to the difficulties in getting a fair jury in Montgomery County. Flowers was convicted and sentenced to death. This verdict was overturned on appeal by the Mississippi Supreme Court, which held that the court had improperly allowed evidence regarding crimes not on trial to be admitted, and that other errors were made.

Third Trial[edit]

A third trial was concluded on February 12, 2004 in a conviction of Flowers for all four murders. The jury sentenced him to death. This verdict was overturned by the Mississippi Supreme Court as it held that the state's peremptory challenges in jury selection were racially motivated and thus unconstitutional. During the selection process, the state challenged African-American jurors with its first seven strikes, which resulted in a Batson challenge by the defense. Following its submission of non-racial grounds for its challenges, the state used all of its five remaining challenges to strike African-American jurors. The state also used its three alternate juror strikes on African Americans. The final jury consisted of two African-Americans and ten whites. (The county is 45% African-American.) One African-American juror excused himself, finding that he could not be impartial.

The state Supreme Court stated that there was disparate treatment by the prosecutor in evaluation of black compared with white jurors on issues such as the jurors' connections with the defendants and the jurors' willingness to use the death penalty; he struck blacks from the jury on grounds for which he did not strike whites. In addition, although the court held that in many cases the state presented race-neutral reasons to strike, it used the challenge process as "an exercise in finding race neutral reasons to justify racially motivated strikes." [9]

Fourth Trial[edit]

At the fourth trial, in 2007, the prosecution did not seek the death penalty. It ended in a mistrial, as the jury was split 7-5 in favor of conviction; votes could be classified by race, among other factors, with African-Americans voting to acquit.[10][11]

Fifth Trial[edit]

The fifth trial, with a jury of 9 white and 3 black jurors, concluded in 2008 in a mistrial. James Bibbs, an African-American, was the sole juror opposed to conviction. The trial judge accused him of perjury for allegedly trying to taint the jury pool by suggesting to other jurors that evidence was planted against Flowers.[12] The prosecution dropped the charges against Bibbs from lack of evidence.[13] A second juror, an alternate, was charged with perjury for lying during jury selection when she said she did not know Flowers.[14]

Sixth Trial[edit]

A jury for a sixth capital murder trial was convened in Winona, Mississippi on June 10, 2010; it was composed of eleven white jurors and one black juror. Montgomery County is half black, but most black potential jurors excused themselves during review because of connections to Flowers and his family, or because of opposition to the death penalty.[15]

Following 30 minutes of deliberation, the jury found Flowers guilty of four counts of capital murder.[16] After deliberating for approximately 90 minutes during the penalty phase, the jury returned a death sentence.[17]

In June 2016, the US Supreme Court ruled that Flowers' case was among three capital cases that it was remanding to lower courts to review for racial bias in jury selection.[3] In November 2017, the Mississippi Supreme Court renewed its prior determination and affirmed Flowers' conviction and sentence from the sixth trial. [18] In June 2018, a Writ of Certiorari was filed with the United States Supreme Court [19] seeking review of the Mississippi Supreme Court ruling. The Court has not yet decided if it will hear the appeal.

In the Dark[edit]

In 2018, the second season of the American Public Media podcast In the Dark centered on the Flowers case, hosted and reported by journalist Madeleine Baran. Through in-depth investigative reporting, serious doubt was cast on the legitimacy of the case against Flowers, including retracted confessions by numerous witnesses, potential misconduct by the prosecutor, and the disappearance of a gun, that was potentially the murder weapon, after it was turned over to police.[20]

New evidence uncovered during Baran's investigation was used by Flowers' lawyers to attempt to get his conviction overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.[21] An amicus brief was also filed by the Magnolia Bar Association and the New Orleans chapter of the Innocence Project to the Supreme Court.[22]


References[edit]

  1. ^ "In the Dark, S2E1". APM Reports. Retrieved 21 August 2018.
  2. ^ Alexander, Paul (7 August 2013). "For Curtis Flowers, Mississippi Is Still Burning". rollingstone.com. Rolling Stone. Retrieved 27 March 2016.
  3. ^ a b U.S. Supreme Court says Lower Court in Mississippi Must Re-examine Curtis Flowers Conviction: "Court Demands New Look at Race of Jurors in 3 Convictions", Jeff Amy, Associated Press, 20 June 2016; posted at George C. Cochran Innocence Project, Univ. of Mississippi; accesssed 18 March 2017
  4. ^ Baran, Madeleine (1 May 2018). "July 16, 1996". In the Dark (Podcast). Retrieved 8 May 2018.
  5. ^ "No 7th trial for Curtis Flowers in quadruple murder". The Clarion Ledger. Retrieved 2015-11-25.
  6. ^ Grinberg, Emanuella (7 June 2010). "Mississippi man faces sixth capital murder trial in 1996 shootings". CNN.com. CNN. Retrieved 27 March 2016.
  7. ^ In the Supreme Court of Mississippi, NO. 97-DP-01459-SCT, Curtis Giovanni Flowers v. State of Mississippi, On Motion for Rehearing, 10/17/1997.
  8. ^ [1]
  9. ^ In the Supreme Court of Mississippi, NO. 2004-DP-00738-SCT, Curtis Giovanni Flowers v. State of Mississippi, On Motion for Rehearing, 02/12/2004.
  10. ^ Le Coz, Emily (21 July 2014). "Lawyers for Mississippi death-row inmate want conviction overturned". reuters.com. Reuters. Retrieved 27 March 2016.
  11. ^ "Appeal from the Circuit Court of Montgomery County, Mississippi Fifth Judicial District No. 2003-0071-CR" (PDF). 2013. Retrieved 27 March 2016.
  12. ^ "Perjury trial postponed in Flowers case", WLBT[dead link]
  13. ^ "Curtis Flowers faces 6th trial for the same crime", BBC, 26 November 2009
  14. ^ "Alternate juror in Flowers' trial in jail", WLBT
  15. ^ "Opinion", 12 June 2010
  16. ^ Grinberg, Emanuella (18 June 2010). "One crime, six trials and a 30-minute guilty verdict". CNN.com. CNN. Retrieved 27 March 2016.
  17. ^ "Jury convicts Curtis Flowers in sixth trial"[dead link]
  18. ^ "Opinion" 2 November 2017
  19. ^ "Petition for a Writ of Certiorari" 21 June 2018
  20. ^ [2]
  21. ^ "In the Dark, S2 E11". www.apmreports.com. APM Reports. Retrieved 21 August 2018.
  22. ^ Craig, James. "BRIEF OF AMICI CURIAE THE MAGNOLIA BAR ASSOCIATION, THE MISSISSIPPI CENTER FOR JUSTICE, AND INNOCENCE PROJECT NEW ORLEANS" (PDF). THE RODERICK AND SOLANGE MACARTHUR JUSTICE CENTER. Retrieved 21 August 2018.

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