Curtis Flowers

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Curtis Flowers
Born (1970-05-29) May 29, 1970 (age 49)
ResidenceMississippi State Penitentiary
NationalityAmerican
Criminal statusImprisoned
Conviction(s)Capital murder (4 counts)
Criminal chargeMurder
PenaltyDeath penalty
Imprisoned atMississippi
Notes
Conviction overturned by Supreme Court, State might again try Flowers

Curtis Giovanni Flowers (born May 29, 1970)[1] 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. He was first convicted in 1997; in five of the six trials, the prosecutor, Doug Evans, sought the death penalty against Flowers. As a result, he has been held on death row at the Parchman division of Mississippi State Penitentiary for nearly 20 years.[2]

2015 photo of building where Tardy Furniture was located

Flowers was convicted of the aggravated murder and robbery 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 and voted to impose the death sentence.[3]

Flowers's case was one of three that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June 2016 were to be remanded to lower courts to be reviewed for evidence of racial bias in jury selection.[4] The U.S. Supreme Court heard Flowers's case on March 20, 2019, to rule either to overturn or uphold his conviction.[5] The Supreme Court overturned Flowers's murder conviction on June 21, 2019, with Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh writing for the majority. Flowers will likely remain in state custody until a decision is made to either retry or release him.[6][7]

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; all of whom had been shot. Curtis Flowers was suspected after police learned that he had been fired from the store 13 days prior to the murders.[8] 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.[9] Flowers was charged with murder in the shooting deaths 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. This would increase the penalty for conviction, making the defendant eligible for the death penalty. The prosecution said that bloody footprints found at the crime scene were a size 10½, the same as that worn by Flowers. They were identified as Fila's Grant Hill style, which witnesses said Flowers had been wearing that morning.[10]

In addition, prosecution witnesses testified that projectiles found at the crime scene were most likely from a .380 caliber weapon, the same as a gun stolen from Flowers's uncle on the morning of the murders. Forensic evidence revealed gunpowder residue on Flowers's thumb. $287 was found to be missing from the till, and $255 was found at the home of Flowers's girlfriend. According to two of Flowers's cellmates in the first jail in which he was held, Flowers admitted to them that he had stolen the money and committed the murders. Flowers denied this.[11] Of the original two witnesses to the confession, one of the witnesses has since died with no further elaboration on the confession and the other later retracted his testimony.[12] A third witness alleged a later confession by Flowers when the both of them were in a different prison, after the first trial, but that witness also later recanted.[11]

Flowers maintained that he was innocent of the murders and said that he never admitted any crimes to his cellmates. He claimed to simply have stopped going to the job and did not know he had been fired. He said he was wearing Nike shoes that day, the clothes he was wearing did not match the description given by eyewitnesses, and the particulate matter on his hands was due to his having handled fireworks the day before the murders. He was convicted of the murder of the store owner by an all white jury and sentenced to death in Montgomery County in 1997.

Trials and appeals[edit]

First trial[edit]

The conviction verdict in the first trial was overturned on appeal 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, and the court remanded the case for a re-trial. The court stated that "what may be harmless error in a case with less at stake becomes reversible error when the penalty is death." It said Flowers's 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 following widespread publicity about the case. Flowers was convicted and sentenced to death. This verdict was also 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 prosecutorial errors were made.

Third trial[edit]

A third trial on charges of four counts of murder was concluded on February 12, 2004, and Flowers was convicted of each murder. 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 to exclude African Americans. The final jury consisted of two African-Americans and ten whites. (The county population 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, the court found that although 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." [13]

Fourth trial[edit]

At the fourth trial, in 2007, the prosecution did not seek the death penalty. However, the state exhausted its peremptory challenges early in jury selection, and the resulting jury had 2 African-Americans on it.[14] The fourth trial 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.[15][16]

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.[17] The prosecution dropped the charges against Bibbs.[18] A second juror, an alternate, was charged with perjury for lying during jury selection when she said she did not know Flowers.[19]

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. Following 30 minutes of deliberation, the jury found Flowers guilty of four counts of capital murder.[20] After deliberating for approximately 90 minutes during the penalty phase, the jury returned a death sentence.[21]

The case was appealed to the US Supreme Court. In June, 2016, Flowers's was among three capital cases it remanded to lower courts to review for racial bias in jury selection.[4] In November 2017, the Mississippi Supreme Court renewed its prior determination, and affirmed Flowers's conviction and sentence of the sixth trial.[22] In June 2018, a Writ of Certiorari was filed with the United States Supreme Court [23] seeking review of the Mississippi Supreme Court ruling. The United States Supreme Court granted the writ on November 2, 2018. The writ was limited to the Mississippi Supreme Court's application of Batson v. Kentucky.

The Court ruled on June 21, 2019, reversing and remanding the case back to the Mississippi Supreme Court. In the 7-2 decision written by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, the Court found that under the Batson challenge, the state had racially discriminated against Flowers in juror selection.[7]

In the Dark[edit]

In 2018, the second season of the American Public Media podcast In the Dark was based on reporting about 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, potentially the murder weapon, after it was turned over to police.[24]

New evidence uncovered during Baran's investigation was used by Flowers's lawyers to attempt to get his conviction overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.[25] An amicus brief was also filed by the Magnolia Bar Association and Innocence Project New Orleans to the Supreme Court.[26]

U.S. Supreme Court ruling[edit]

On June 21, 2019 the United States Supreme Court overturned Flowers's 6th conviction with a vote of 7-2 in Flowers v. Mississippi. The Supreme Court's decision was made based on the argument that prosecutor, Doug Evans, had committed a Batson violation by striking all but one prospective black juror in Flowers's sixth trial. Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh wrote the majority decision, noting: “The state’s relentless, determined effort to rid the jury of black individuals 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.” He said further, "We cannot ignore that history.”[27] Justices Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas dissented from the Court's decision.[6]

The Washington Post described Evans as conducting "a prosecutorial pursuit that may be without parallel."[27] In total in the six trials, Evans had used 41 of 42 challenges to exclude African Americans from the juries.[6]

Flowers will be removed from death row at Parchman Prison and taken to a county jail somewhere near his hometown of Winona, Mississippi pending the state's decision on its next action. Doug Evans is still the District Attorney, and his office will decide whether to conduct a seventh trial, try to arrange a plea deal, or dismiss the state's charges.[6]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Mississippi Department of Corrections". Retrieved 21 June 2019.
  2. ^ "In the Dark, S2E1". APM Reports. Retrieved 21 August 2018.
  3. ^ Alexander, Paul (7 August 2013). "For Curtis Flowers, Mississippi Is Still Burning". rollingstone.com. Rolling Stone. Retrieved 27 March 2016.
  4. ^ 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; access-date 18 March 2017
  5. ^ Baran, Madeleine. "Supreme Court agrees to hear Curtis Flowers appeal". www.apmreports.com. Retrieved 5 November 2018.
  6. ^ a b c d "Supreme Court rules for black death row inmate over prosecutor's racial bias". NBC News. Retrieved 2019-06-21.
  7. ^ a b Liptak, Adam (2019-06-21). "Excluding Black Jurors in Curtis Flowers Case Violated Constitution, Supreme Court Rules". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-06-21.
  8. ^ Baran, Madeleine (1 May 2018). "July 16, 1996". In the Dark (Podcast). Retrieved 8 May 2018.
  9. ^ "No 7th trial for Curtis Flowers in quadruple murder". The Clarion Ledger. Retrieved 2015-11-25.
  10. ^ Grinberg, Emanuella (7 June 2010). "Mississippi man faces sixth capital murder trial in 1996 shootings". CNN.com. CNN. Retrieved 27 March 2016.
  11. ^ a b 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.
  12. ^ Film: In the Dark, APM Reports, May 15, 2018
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ Tottenburg, Nina (June 21, 2019). "Supreme Court Strikes Down Conviction Of Mississippi Man On Death Row For 22 Years". NPR. Retrieved June 21, 2019.
  15. ^ Le Coz, Emily (21 July 2014). "Lawyers for Mississippi death-row inmate want conviction overturned". reuters.com. Reuters. Retrieved 27 March 2016.
  16. ^ "Appeal from the Circuit Court of Montgomery County, Mississippi Fifth Judicial District No. 2003-0071-CR" (PDF). 2013. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-04-08. Retrieved 27 March 2016. Cite uses deprecated parameter |dead-url= (help); Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  17. ^ "Perjury trial postponed in Flowers case", WLBT[dead link]
  18. ^ "Curtis Flowers faces 6th trial for the same crime", BBC, 26 November 2009
  19. ^ "Alternate juror in Flowers's trial in jail" Archived 2012-02-22 at the Wayback Machine, WLBT
  20. ^ Grinberg, Emanuella (18 June 2010). "One crime, six trials and a 30-minute guilty verdict". CNN.com. CNN. Retrieved 27 March 2016.
  21. ^ "Jury convicts Curtis Flowers in sixth trial"[dead link]
  22. ^ Flowers v. Mississippi, 240 So.3d 1082 (Miss. 2017).
  23. ^ "Petition for a Writ of Certiorari" 21 June 2018
  24. ^ [1]
  25. ^ "In the Dark, S2 E11". www.apmreports.com. APM Reports. Retrieved 21 August 2018.
  26. ^ 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.
  27. ^ a b Barnes, Robert (21 June 2019). "The Supreme Court tossed Curtis Flowers's death-row conviction, ruling it was racially biased". Washington Post. Retrieved 23 June 2019.
  • [2], "NPR", 21 June 2019

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